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Herald on Sunday editorial: Fighting an amoral industry

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

When it first arrived, the southern saltmarsh mosquito looked innocuous to the untrained eye. But this aggressive little biter which, unlike other mosquitoes, could strike day or night, carried the debilitating Ross River virus, a human illness for which there was no vaccine.

The saltmarsh mosquito was detected in Napier, and then in 11 other coastal locations around the North and South Islands. It cost biosecurity authorities $70 million over 10 years, but eventually the mosquito was eradicated in 2010, and the whole country breathed a sigh of relief.

When the political will exists, New Zealand can eradicate unwelcome and unhealthy pests and diseases. We no longer have smallpox, or polio. In our isolated ocean-bound corner of the world, we can protect our borders from killer diseases - and from killer drugs.

For the first time, it has now become apparent that the political will exists to eradicate the single thing that has killed more Kiwis in the past century than diseases such as influenza, smallpox and polio combined.

Yes, the cigarette.

The language in New Zealand is no longer about controlling or cutting back smoking. It is about eradication. It is, according to the British Medical Journal, about "the endgame".

This makes New Zealand the international frontline in the battle with Big Tobacco - and the cigarette manufacturers won't just roll over and surrender.

They argue that stamping down on smoking is an attack on New Zealanders' freedom of choice. They have spent large amounts on advertising opposing plain packaging, and have taken court action to stop its implementation. They are buying up nicotine-replacement electronic cigarette brands: if you can't beat the quit smoking brigade, buy 'em out. They have hired some of the best-connected political lobbyists in Wellington to whisper in the ears of politicians, and in at least one case have made cash contributions to a political leader's expenses.

We say putting an end to New Zealand's most dangerous drug is not about constraining civic freedoms. It is about protecting our kids from an addictive substance that hooks them in and kills them. It is about fighting a pinstripe-suited industry so cynical, so amoral, that it makes the nation's P-dealing gangs look benign.

The Herald on Sunday today launches a campaign to persuade New Zealanders to escape the shackles of the tobacco peddlers. About 18 per cent of adults still smoke - and many more are affected by the dirty yellow fug that clouds our thinking.

This it about real freedom: freedom from the addictive cocktail of nicotine, tar and other toxins wrapped up in a piece of paper and marketed as teenage rebellion.

The Wero team-quitting contest is a new, competitive strategy in smoking cessation, internationally proven as effective. The Herald on Sunday has put together a team of 10 staff to support each other through the challenge of ridding their systems of nicotine, and we invite other workplaces, marae and sports clubs to do the same.

Next month's contest is a chance to quit smoking with the support of an entire team, under the scrutiny of a whole nation. If you have a friend who needs to stub it out, feel free to put the heat on them.

As with smallpox, polio and the saltmarsh mosquito, New Zealand must recognise that tobacco is a pestilent intruder. It should be stamped out.

- Herald on Sunday

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