National MP Tau Henare has disputed the risks of pregnant women smoking and has described smokers as "the new lepers".

Mr Henare's comments came after Joanna Houston of Smokechange told a parliamentary hearing into the wellbeing of Maori children that a smokefree pregnancy was the "best gift" any woman could give her baby, Fairfax Media reported.

She said babies exposed to smoking were disadvantaged.

Mr Henare objected with this and asked Ms Houston whether her children had health issues, after she admitted to smoking when pregnant.


She replied her son has asthma and eczema, while her daughter has asthma and allergies, and she wondered whether her smoking had contributed.

The National MP, who has battled his own smoking addiction, told the committee smokers paid for their health care through $1.5 billion paid in taxes and were sick of feeling "ostracised" for their habit, Fairfax Media reported.

He said smokers were "the new lepers in the community" and said having to go outside to smoke was "seriously depressing".

- Herald Online