• Rt Hon Helen Clark is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and recently retired as Administrator of the UN Development Programme.
I am delighted that one of my first public acts on returning to New Zealand from my role in the United Nations Development Programme is to become patron of ASH NZ - Action for Smoke-free 2025.
I have been a staunch supporter of tobacco control throughout my political career, and I am proud of the world-leading work New Zealand has done towards eliminating tobacco-induced harm.
One of my proudest achievements as a politician was sponsoring New Zealand's pioneering Smoke-free Environments Act when I was health minister nearly 30 years ago. This Act placed further restrictions on smoking in many indoor workplaces, cafes and restaurants, banned smoking on public transport, and established the Health Sponsorship Council with funding to replace tobacco sponsorship of sporting and other events and organisations.
A Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act was passed when I was Prime Minister in 2003, requiring all indoor workplaces, including hospitality venues, schools, and early childhood centres become 100 per cent smoke free. It has been pleasing to see further amendments to the legislation over the years.
This Wednesday is World No-Tobacco Day and its theme is "tobacco and development". Alas, the developmental impact of tobacco is evident globally and in New Zealand. As UNDP Administrator, I could see how developing country populations were being targeted by the tobacco industry. Tobacco is a growing health crisis in those countries, including for women. In New Zealand, we know where tobacco addiction leads. A century after commercial tobacco first came to New Zealand, one in four Maori women are dying from tobacco-related causes.
Another tragic feature of the production of tobacco in developing countries is the use of children in tobacco growing and harvesting, and the desperate and enduring poverty of most tobacco farmers and their families.
While at the UN, I also saw the impact which New Zealand's leadership on tobacco continues to have on a global scale. In 2003, New Zealand was one of three nations with comprehensive smoke-free laws. We had the courage to be a pioneer. Now, more than 100 nations have such laws.
New Zealand has a world leading and ambitious goal to become smoke-free by 2025. Achieving this goal will save thousands of Kiwi lives, and influence many more to be saved by showing leadership to other nations fighting the tobacco industry.
I applaud the actions of our neighbours in the Pacific who have recognised tobacco as a development issue and adopted the historic Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025 target.
I take on this role as patron of ASH because I am passionate about eliminating the harm which tobacco has caused to New Zealand and global health. I am also passionate about what New Zealand's leadership can do for global health.
Despite New Zealand having set the "smoke-free by 2025" goal, progress is still too slow. We are not yet on track to achieve the goal, particularly for Maori and Pasifika people, and for people in low income groups overall.
At the current rate of progress, it will take us 30 years to become smoke-free. We've given ourselves eight, and the eyes of the world are on us to succeed.
Today's politicians must show courage and leadership to reach the smoke-free 2025 goal. The 1990 Smoke-free Environments Act passed in an election year, and many said it was political suicide to promote such legislation at that time. Yet Parliament was courageous, and that legislation has saved thousands of lives.
Tobacco has been killing New Zealanders for well over a century. The fight against tobacco must be fought by generations of governments. This challenge is bigger than any one government's term, or any one election.
Every delay in implementing policy, every time ideology beats science, every time the tobacco industry threatens litigation and we get scared - these reactions all result in more lives lost to tobacco.
We have the potential for every child born in New Zealand this decade to grow up free from tobacco. That's a legacy we could all celebrate.
As Patron of ASH, I am using my voice to call for urgent action on tobacco. I urge all New Zealanders who have lost someone to tobacco, and/or are fighting personal addiction to smoking, and all who want their kids to be smoke-free to add their voice. Tell today's political leaders that we need urgent action.
Tell them we only have eight years to go until 2025, and that achieving the smoke-free target must be a priority. This deadline needs to motivate and drive urgent and collective political action.
If our politicians don't make this a priority, don't act on the evidence and don't stand up together against the tobacco industry, we will be mourning lives lost to tobacco for another generation.