Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 is going up in smoke as the Government is set to repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act.
The Government’s changes will remove the limitation on the number of approved retail outlets that can sell smoked tobacco products, the ban prohibiting sale or supply of smoked tobacco products to people born on or after January 1, 2009, and the requirement for denicotinisation.
The Government is making smoked tobacco products more accessible and addictive. The Smokefree law allowed New Zealand to claim the title of world leader, but in a matter of days, National, Act, and New Zealand First have taken us from world leaders to world losers.
The repeal of the Smokefree law feels particularly insidious and cruel considering National’s reason to repeal them is to fund their tax cuts that only have a genuine benefit for the uber-wealthy. In other areas, low-income families are set to miss out on up to $37.90 a week as National is walking back on its promise to lift the Working for Families abatement threshold.
When National promised to get the country back on track, I was not anticipating on track to making New Zealanders smokers again. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon and Finance Minister Nicola Willis insist they and the Government want to reduce the number of smokers, but the Government’s fiscal plan relies on more people smoking. They can’t have the cake and eat it too.
There has already been overwhelming push-back against repealing the Smokefree law.
An ActionStation petition calling for the Government to retain the Smokefree law has garnered thousands of signatures and the labels ‘Nicotine Willis’ for Willis and ‘Shane Cigaretti’ for Minister of Health Shane Reti have been popularised on social media.
Hāpai Te Hauora, a national Māori public health organisation, is warning the repeal will have a “catastrophic” impact on the health of Māori and leading Pasifika health expert Sir Collin Tukuitonga says the repeal will severely affect lower-income Pacific communities.
The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation has labelled the Government’s move embarrassing, and the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners is calling it “appalling”. Labour’s health spokeswoman, Dr Ayesha Verrall, said, “lives will be lost”.
New Zealanders do not want needless suffering for the future of our country.
Around 5000 people die each year in New Zealand because of smoking or second-hand smoke exposure. That’s 13 to 14 people a day. New Zealand has a chance to do something revolutionary - to prevent a generation of children and young people from ever taking up smoking, unnecessary addiction, cancers, heart diseases, strokes and blindness and thousands of deaths - but our Government is choosing tax cuts for the wealthy over the lives of the vulnerable.
It is baffling that National, Act, and New Zealand First sat down and said to each other: you know what could pay for the $3 billion gap in the Government’s fiscal plan? A new generation of smokers!
I cannot find the words to express just how unethical and callous it is to wilfully compromise and risk the health of vulnerable people and exploit addiction to generate government revenue. It is frustrating that a group of powerful politicians are choosing to condemn generations of people to addiction, sickness, and death.
Addictive practices that young people take up due to peer pressure, a desire for conformity and a predisposition to rebellion cannot be eliminated by the mere discouragement of everyday people.
The Government has a duty of care to young people, and repealing the Smokefree law is a breach of that duty. The Government should be creating paths to help people quit smoking, not be the reason more people start smoking.
On one hand, we have the health and wellbeing of vulnerable New Zealanders, and on the other, we have tax cuts for the wealthy. The choice is simple. Don’t give the wealthy massive tax cuts. They’ll whinge but they’ll live.