The Maori Party is drawing up a bill to ban smoking anywhere in New Zealand. The bill would also make it illegal to produce or sell tobacco.

MP Hone Harawira, who is drafting the private member's bill, said it was "not about trying to penalise the poor addicts who are smoking cigarettes".

"But the tobacco companies can go to hell. We will no longer sacrifice our generations so you can make profits."

While a quarter of all New Zealanders smoke, nearly half of Maori do, and a third (650 to 1000) of Maori deaths a year are due to tobacco.

Yesterday, the other Maori Party MPs, Tariana Turia, Pita Sharples and Te Ururoa Flavell, all non-smokers, agreed to support the bill.

Once drafted, it will need to win a ballot before being introduced to Parliament.

Mr Harawira said he could not understand why no politician had drafted a similar bill.

"I can't believe how we could have allowed this to carry on. This actually kills people and yet it's legal."

Over the past decades laws surrounding tobacco use and advertising have been slowly tightened.

In 1995, tobacco advertising was banned, as was tobacco sponsorship the following year. And in December 2004 all workplaces, including bars, restaurants, clubs and casinos, became smoke-free.

Each year the Government gets $1.2 billion from tax on tobacco products.

Prime Minister Helen Clark, who is stridently anti-smoking, said through a spokesman that she did not support prohibition.

She said it would simply criminalise people with an addiction, and she favoured a public health approach to tobacco and addiction.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) director Becky Freeman said banning tobacco simply made it an issue for the courts to deal with, rather than keeping it as a health issue.

"I can see that their [Maori Party] heart is in the right place. They are trying to do something about this epidemic that is obviously killing their people more than it is killing the rest of the population."

British American Tobacco spokesman Carrick Graham said he found himself in the unusual position of agreeing with ASH.

"Legitimate tobacco companies could pack up and go away, but then the market would be run by criminal organisations and I think the Maori Party would agree that isn't the best course of action."

He said alcohol prohibition failed and tobacco would be no different.

Mr Harawira said he quit smoking 15 years ago after his friend and mentor the Rev Maori Marsden died of lung cancer.


Smoking and NZ

* 25 per cent of New Zealanders smoke.
* Nearly 50 per cent of Maori smoke.
* About 5000 people a year die from smoking-related diseases.
* $1.2 billion is paid from taxes on tobacco.