Shameful repeal of Smokefree law will result in more tobacco harm, deaths

The Government’s shameful repeal of the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act 2022 will condemn thousands of Kiwis to prolonged tobacco addiction, harm and preventable death.

“The tobacco industry will be celebrating their victory in getting the Government coalition parties, all of whom have significant ties with the industry, to run their agenda in keeping 284,000 smokers addicted to their products for as long as possible,” Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn said.

“Putting the profits of the tobacco industry ahead of the health of New Zealanders is grossly irresponsible.”

The repeal of the Smokefree law (2022) will result in disproportionate harm and deaths for Māori and Pacific peoples, who have higher smoking rates, and is a breach of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Without this law, rates of smoking for all population groups will not fall to below the Smokefree 2025 target of less than 5 per cent until at least 2061 – primarily because the rates are more than double for Māori.  

“The repeal will prolong the seven-year gap in life expectancy between Māori and pakeha New Zealanders and makes the Government complicit in the greater burden of smoking on Māori – including a higher preventable death rate,” HCA co-chair Professor Lisa Te Morenga said.

The repeal is also a slap in the face to democracy.

None of the coalition parties actively campaigned to repeal the law and they have pushed it through under urgency – not even providing the most basic parliamentary provisions for scrutiny and debate.

Surveys and polls show most New Zealanders support the Smokefree law amendment (2022), which was lauded as ground-breaking around the world. Thousands took to the streets and signed a petition (53,000) in the hope that sanity would prevail, and a health-giving, health-protecting law would be saved.

Shamefully, the rhetoric and objectives of the tobacco industry have been prioritised over the will of the New Zealand public.

Health Coalition Aotearoa is committed to the reduction of harm and death from tobacco and will continue the fight.

“We have commenced planning work towards a Citizens Initiated Referendum, as the best option to bring this law back,” Professor Swinburn said.

We know that a Smokefree New Zealand can be a reality – for the current and future generations – with the implementation of these measures, and that is worth fighting for.

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