“First, do no harm,” says the Hippocratic Oath.
I wonder if those words are ringing in the ears of newly-minted Health Minister Dr Shane Reti as he sits at the Cabinet table as part of a Government that’s planning to increase smoking to raise money to pay for tax cuts.
You’ve seen the numbers – to raise an extra $1 billion in revenue to help plug the holes in their tax plan,
National is preparing to roll back smoke-free policies that would have saved 8000 people from dying from cancer and avoided $1.4b in hospital costs.
But this isn’t about numbers. It wouldn’t matter if it was just one of our young people who will get cancer and die because of this policy.
It would still be morally wrong. It would still be indefensible. And it is an immorality that National is preparing to force on all of us.
The meagre tax cuts National is about to dole out, that won’t make a difference to anyone, will be stained with the knowledge they have come at the expense of addicting our rangatahi to nicotine and dooming members of our whanau to horrible deaths.
My challenge to Dr Reti is this: Find us some respectable doctors and medical experts who will say you are doing the right thing. Find us some of your colleagues who will say it is right to give Kiwis cancer to pay for tax cuts. Where are the Hauora who support this initiative? Why on Earth didn’t they just ditch the tax cuts for landlords instead? I’ve said it before – I’m a landlord and I don’t need a tax cut.
Even more bizarrely – they don’t just want to give me a tax cut I don’t need, they want to retrospectively give me back tax I’ve already paid. Landlords don’t need tax cuts. Not when the money comes at the expense of underfunded schools and hospitals, and not when it comes at the price of Kiwis getting cancer.
What’s next? Roll back anti-drink driving measures so the government can gather more alcohol excise? Weaken the clean-car standards so the government pulls in more fuel excise? Putting charges back on prescriptions to raise a bit more revenue? Oh, right, they are doing that one.
Already, this policy has brought international shame to New Zealand. Global websites have run shocked stories that New Zealand – the country famed in recent years for saving tens of thousands of lives during Covid and for its victim-centered response to the Christchurch massacre – is now planning to increase the number of people becoming addicted and dying from cigarettes so landlords can get a tax cut.
This is not only a bad, indefensible policy, it is also a massive political own goal. This should be a time when the headlines are full of smiling government ministers pushing through popular first policies. Instead, Chris Luxon, Nicola Willis, and Dr Reti have been in the media looking shifty and defensive, running ridiculous lines.
National made a big deal over the need to increase Pharmac funding to get the latest cancer medicines, and wanting to improve cancer screening. Now they’re in power, rather than fighting cancer, they’re going to facilitate it. Medical bodies, public health experts, iwi and community leaders, and individual doctors are lining up to condemn National in its first week in office.
In one fell swoop, they’ve given up the high ground they had on health issues. Were they really so desperate to deliver tax cuts to their real estate developer donors that they couldn’t see how the public would view this? Are they that out of touch already? There are a lot of other sectors watching this nervously.
Because it tells us a lot about National’s priorities. If National is willing to sacrifice the lungs of our kids to pay for landlords’ tax cuts, what hope is there for funding for our schools, help for our disabled whanau, and investment in housing? They’re all going to get cut long before National would give up its precious tax cuts.
There’s still time for National MPs of good conscience to stand up and say they refuse to cave to the tobacco and real estate lobbies. They need to say they will not sell out the health of our young people so that cigarette companies can make more profit and investors can buy more property. I won’t hold my breath.