A Northland grandmother hopes others will join her in a peaceful protest against the Government’s repeal of smokefree laws, as Northlanders’ anger about the change grows.
The new National-Act-New Zealand First Government has agreed to throw out laws that ban those born after 2008 from buying cigarettes, restrict the number of retailers allowed to sell smokes and cut the amount of nicotine allowed in tobacco.
National said it remained committed to reducing smoking rates, despite it accounting for $500 million a year in tax revenue from tobacco sales from repealing the smokefree laws.
Paparoa grandmother Helen James said there is no evidence to support this smokefree repeal, which has embarrassed New Zealand on the world stage.
James is concerned as a grandmother, as her young grandchildren would have been part of the smokefree generation, born after 2008, who would never have been allowed to buy cigarettes.
“I’m pretty gutted my grandsons will have the opportunity to choose to smoke,” she said.
As the changes were part of New Zealand First’s election policies, James does not believe National voters support the changes, as it was not part of National’s manifesto.
The Government is not being honest about the changes, she said, with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon incorrectly saying Labour’s laws would have left just one Northland store able to sell cigarettes, before having to admit the true number is 35.
James is so angered about the changes, she plans to protest weekly outside National Party offices in Northland.
Newly elected Northland MP Grant McCallum does not yet have an office set-up, so James said she will take to the streets of Maungaturoto on Thursdays.
On Fridays, she will protest outside Health Minister Dr Shane Reti’s Whangārei office.
The only hitch to starting the protests is the fact that James’ car is currently getting mechanical work: “I will start on Thursday unless my car’s not ready”, she said.
Meanwhile, Northland-based iwi Ngāpuhi has added its voice to complaints about the smokefree repeal, saying it is personal.
“Māori have the highest smoking prevalence of any ethnic group in Aotearoa and, as the largest iwi in the country, Ngāpuhi see the Government’s actions as a direct attack on our people, our mokopuna and our future,” said Te Hauora o Ngāpuhi chair Hone Sadler.
He called out Reti, who has Ngāpuhi affiliations, praising him for the work he did helping rural Māori communities and asking him to now put his people first.
Newly elected Te Rūnanga ā Iwi o Ngāpuhi chair Mane Tahere said the Government is putting the interests of the tobacco industry above its people.
“We need more investment in our people’s wellbeing. We don’t need to keep propping up big tobacco companies,” he said.
More than 24,000 people nationwide have signed a petition started by Māori Public Health Hāpai Te Hauora, which calls for a stop to repealing the smokefree legislation.
Reti previously said the Government remains committed to reducing smoking rates but there were concerns Labour’s laws would have increased the black market for tobacco and seen an escalation of ram raids by concentrating retailers down to just a few suppliers.
“I want to assure the people of Northland that we aren’t walking away from long standing commitments by successive New Zealand governments to reducing smoking rates,” he said.