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New government in Aotearoa/New Zealand launches attack on public health

Introduction by Croakey: Aotearoa/New Zealand has a new government, and its policy agenda looks like disastrous news for public health and health equity. In particular, its plans to repeal world-leading smoke free laws have been widely condemned.

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn described the move as a “major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry – whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives”.

The extra tobacco excise revenue is to help fund tax cuts for the wealthy; researchers wrote at the Tobacco Control blog, “the new government is choosing tax cuts over the health and lives of its citizens”.

In the article below, Professor Coral Gartner, an international expert in tobacco control policy and Director of the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence on Achieving the Tobacco Endgame, urges Croakey readers to show support for public health in Aotearoa/New Zealand by signing this petition, sponsored by Hāpai te Hauora (Māori Public Health).


Coral Gartner writes:

The public health community in Aotearoa/New Zealand (NZ) is deeply shocked that their new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, has so quickly and willingly sold-out the health of future generations to secure support from two minor political parties with which he has entered into coalition.

Last week, the coalition agreements between National (a major party) and two minor parties (ACT and NZ First) were released.

Among the agreed actions included repealing the legislation that would implement the three key policies of the country’s Smokefree Action Plan: a reduction in the number of tobacco retailers by 90 percent of existing numbers, a very low nicotine standard for smoked tobacco to reduce their addictiveness to minimal levels, and a smokefree generation law that would end the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2008.

The new laws commenced on 1 January 2023, although the measures would only start taking effect from next year. Modelling suggests this package of measures could achieve rapid and profound improvements in health equity.

The explanation given by the Finance Minister, Nicola Willis, for repealing these laws and abandoning the Smokefree Goal was in response to demands by ACT and NZ First and to deliver promised income tax cuts.

With smoking more concentrated among people on the lowest of incomes, this cynical reason for maintaining cigarette sales – to fund an income tax break that will primarily benefit people on higher incomes than those paying the bulk of tobacco taxes – should be thoroughly denounced.

The new Health Minister, Dr Shane Reti, must be feeling deeply uncomfortable about last week’s political deal.

As a former general practitioner, he no doubt has treated many patients for tobacco-related diseases and should understand the immense suffering that tobacco smoking causes. He now has the dubious honour of explaining to the public why he is part of a government that is prioritising income tax cuts over interventions that could deliver massive improvements in health and equity, particularly for Māori.

During the legislative process that oversaw the new laws, Reti indicated his support for the Smokefree Goal, as his colleague stated during the Parliamentary debate of the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill, the main disagreement was about the order of implementation:

“As Dr Reti clearly outlined, the National Party agrees with the end goals. In fact, to a point, we actually even agree with the three policy levers of reducing retail shops, denicotisation, and making it illegal for a certain cohort of New Zealanders born after 2009 to buy cigarettes. But where we differ on this side of the House is the order of those three levers.”

The global public health community needs to mobilise to denounce this cynical attack on an innovative law that would have been (and could still be, if the repeal of the laws is halted) the most significant advance in ending the commercial tobacco epidemic.

With the 11th WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of the Parties due to meet in February, all eyes will be on Aotearoa/NZ.

If the NZ Government proceeds with its plan to repeal these smokefree laws, it can expect to receive condemnation, rather than praise and admiration as a tobacco control leader.

Indeed, Luxon is surely currently the front-runner for the ‘dirty ashtray’ award for this act of sabotage of an important public health measure.

Please show your support for public health in Aotearoa/New Zealand by signing the petition, “Put our People over Profit – Stop the Repeal of the Smokefree Legislation” sponsored by Hāpai te Hauora (Māori Public Health).


From X/Twitter

Read the article at News Hub Read the Tobacco Control blog Read the NZ Herald article

See the petition; at 2.30pm AEDT on 28 November, there were 4,759 signatures.


Previously at Croakey, read: Health fares poorly in Aotearoa/New Zealand election campaign

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