10 Mar 2020

Quit Group payments a 'shocking waste', ASH says

10:18 am on 10 March 2020

Anti-smoking group ASH is decrying what it calls a deplorable waste of money by Quit Group - the charity originally commissioned to run Quitline.

A hand push the cigarette stub on white background, Symbolic stop / quit smoking concept, Free space for text

File photo. Photo: 123RF

Yesterday RNZ revealed that five years after Quit Group ceased to function, it continues to pay board members tens of thousands of dollars a year from funds that were not invested in smokefree services.

Action for Smokefree 2025 (ASH) wants the money - more than $2.7 million - returned to the government's Health Promotion Agency so it can be redistributed to those actively working to reduce smoking in Aotearoa.

Deborah Hart, the director of Ash told RNZ, it was shocking a waste of money, particularly considering nearly 5000 New Zealanders still die from smoking-related causes every year.

"Money that is so needed to help New Zealanders quit is not being spent.

"This is urgent, urgent business, and we can't afford to waste a minute and we can't afford to waste a cent."

At the time of closure, Quitline had over $3m in reserves and assured the government and groups working for Smokefree 2025 that it would distribute funds through a fair a transparent process.

"I don't understand why the Quit Group hasn't done what it said it was going to do - and that is to give the money out to organisations like our own who are doing the work at the moment to help get New Zealanders to a smokefree 2025," Hart said.

ASH also had cancelled government contracts in 2017. It returned public funds and used anything remaining on projects, Hart said.

"We gave that money back and lived off our fundraising and our reserves. Our board members in those five years have received a grand total of absolutely nothing."

Despite not actually operating, Quit Group Trust continues to gain investment income and has paid out $702,296 since 2016.

That includes paying itself $72,000 per year - or $18,000 per board member - travel expenses, legal fees and IT costs and maintenance.

"It is a deplorable waste of valuable resources over the last three years, a resource so needed by the community and groups such as ASH to help get us to Smokefree 2025," Hart said.

ASH said if the funds were transferred to the Health Promotion Agency, it could ensure the funds were properly distributed in a competitive and transparent process.

Ash has received some funding over the past three years - $161,000 in all.

"We are grateful for this funding, but it is not even as much as the interest the Quit Group have earned from the $2.7m that sits in the bank not helping anyone quit smoking," Hart said.

ASH NZ is an independent not-for-profit dedicated to the elimination of the death and harm caused by tobacco. It was formed in 1982.

RNZ approached the Ministry of Health for comment yesterday but a spokesperson said nobody was available for an interview.

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