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Māori voices in the fight to reduce tobacco harm

Hāpai Te Hauora cautions the health sector about silencing Māori voices in the fight to reduce tobacco harm

There have been some concerns expressed in the media about the new "Vaping Facts" website and the alleged "lack of consultation" with respiratory physicians by the Health Promotion Agency (HPA) in their development of wairehu (vaping) resources.

Hāpai te Hauora CEO, Selah Hart, believes that the consultation we should be most concerned about is the consultation with whānau Māori.

"We have always maintained this position: the voices of whānau, particularly of wāhine, should remain at the centre of our conversations about using wairehu as a harm reduction tool to stop smoking."

"That is one reason why we support HPA’s website," Hart continues. "It is a resource that centralises the experiences of wāhine who have used wairehu to stop smoking. I am wary of anyone who dismisses wairehu without listening to Māori women - the group whose smoking rates are most persistent, and who have been the least positively impacted by other interventions. Anyone who ignores the perspective of wāhine Māori on this issue cannot claim to be working for equity in public health."

Hāpai te Hauora supports wairehu as a tool to stop smoking. Hāpai National Manager for Tobacco Control, Mihi Blair, was a member of the "Vaping Facts" website advisory board and says "Those who quit cigarettes have diverse experiences and needs. We need to be supporting whānau by providing access to the most effective options available".

Associate Professor Natalie Walker from the National Institute for Health Innovation extends on this point, and explains that there are complexities around approved smoking cessation medication because they are not as accessible as vapes; some require a visit to a pharmacy or a doctor and can be costly. She believes wairehu ticks many boxes - they have been proven to work for some people and are safer than continued smoking, they are relatively accessible and are highly acceptable to most who are trying to stop smoking.

Associate Professor Walker states that "The best smoking cessation treatments are those that work, with no or few side effects, are low cost, and easy to get. While approved smoking cessation medication has been proven to work for some people and are safer than continued smoking, a third to a half of New Zealanders trying to quit smoking have already tried them (often repeatedly), and have been unsuccessful."

Hart concludes, "Before this website, whānau didn’t really have anywhere to turn to online for good wairehu advice which was designed for them. Their only option has been poor quality information from social media influencers and similarly poorly informed media coverage. They deserve better. This website is a start, and overall, we believe it does well in offering balanced whakaaro and community experiences."

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