Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), with 104 allies in health, education, social services organisations and unions, say the Government’s plan to abolish the Smokefree law is immoral and undemocratic in an open letter published in the New Zealand Herald today.
It follows the coalition deal by the ACT, New Zealand First and National parties to repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act (SERPA) passed in 2022 which includes denicotisation of smoked tobacco products, a reduction in retailers and ending sales of cigarettes to the next generation.
“This letter shows the depth of shock and anger by those in the health community and beyond about the Government’s willingness to repeal a law that will save thousands of lives – so they can give tax cuts to the well-off,” Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn said.
Signatories to the letter include organisations across the spectrum of health services and advocacy, unions representing thousands of workers, leading academic and research groups, major health NGOs, Māori/iwi community health providers and medical colleges.
The letter highlights the weight of evidence and expert opinion expects the law to bring about “rapid, massive and equitable declines in smoking rates and save thousands of lives”.
“There is no way that the Smokefree 2025 goal – a goal set by the National-led coalition in 2011 – will be achieved without this ground-breaking legislation.
We believe to repeal this Act would not just be irresponsible, it would be immoral.”
HCA Smokefree Expert Advisory Group co-chair and recipient of the 2019 Tariana Turia Award for significant achievement in indigenous tobacco control Sue Taylor (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu) said many Māori organisations had signed the letter to express their distress over the repeal.
“This will set us back; we will be left behind. This decision won’t just create harm, it will be our stolen generation,” Taylor said.
The letter calls out the Government’s “heartless and indefensible” attempts to justify the repeal, including Minister of Finance Nicola Willis’ explanation of the significant contribution tobacco excise tax will make to the Government books, and fearmongering about the growth of the black market in tobacco and ram raids.
“We think the most effective way to reduce trade in illicit tobacco and associated crime is to cut smoking prevalence to minimal levels – something this law will achieve in record time,” the letter says.
The repeal has been unfairly sprung on the voting public and is undemocratic.
“None of the coalition parties actively campaigned on repealing our Smokefree laws.”
The letter also highlights the previous position of Health Minister Dr Shane Reti and the National Party’s support for denicotisation and Reti’s own experiences of the devastating effects of smoking on his own patients.
“Health Minister Dr Shane Reti will no doubt have treated people with lung cancers, heart attacks, gangrenous toes, and emphysema. He knows the statistics and the lived reality of the devastating impacts of tobacco, especially on Māori.”
Finally, the letter asks the Government to put people over the profit of tobacco companies.
“We, the undersigned organisations, strongly urge the Government to support the better health of New Zealanders, especially children and future generations, not the greater wealth of the tobacco companies.”
Health Coalition Aotearoa is leading a campaign to save New Zealand’s world-leading Smokefree law from repeal.
Nearly 30,000 people have signed a petition to stop the repeal which will be handed over to Parliament on December 12.
Contributions to a campaign fund are flowing in and a rally “Our future: Up in Smoke” hosted by HCA member Association of Salaried Medical Specialists, Toi Mata Hauora will be held in Wellington on December 13.