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Address to ASH annual meeting - Bunkle

Philida Bunkle
28 August 2000 Speech Notes

Address to ASH annual meeting

Good evening, welcome and thank you for inviting me to speak to you today.

I must admit that it has been difficult choosing what issues to cover today. Going over the smoking related statistics would probably have the same effect as preaching to the converted.

There are issues I know you would like me to discuss but I must make it clear I am unable to go into these this evening. However, this government is still considering its options with regard to the Smoke-Free Environments (Enhanced Protection) Amendment Bill, which as you know is still working its way through Parliament.

So I guess that leaves me with either a very short speech, or one that risks being patronising!

I am proud to say that I am a founding member of ASH. This organisation has been crucial in the education of New Zealanders about the harmful effects of smoking and passive smoking. You can be proud of the persistent work in lobbying governments over the past decade to put in place meaningful anti-smoking laws.

I remember as one of the founding members of ASH, the little cards given out to members. I would often leave one of these cards at a restaurant where I had dined. The card simply thanked the restaurant for the lovely meal and dining experience, but that the experience would have been more enjoyable if it had been a smoke-free environment. I also commend you on the use of alternative cards, which congratulate hosts who provide a smoke-free environment.

It's with a sense of small achievement that I am able to walk into most restaurants today, and know that I can expect to enjoy my meal without being attacked by cigarette smoke. Thanks to initiatives like these cards, attitudes about smoking have changed.

Changing these attitudes has been hard work, but work well rewarded through the greater understanding of the risks associated with smoking.

The education of New Zealand about smoking has been fundamental in guiding social policy. We can be proud of the legislation that exists today and the continuing efforts to extend it.

ASH has helped to achieve these laws despite resistance from some sectors.

As a consumer advocate over many years, I have taken on battles that pitch the small player against the bigger industry. Biotechnology is one of the concerns shaping up to be so, but the issue with the greatest parallel to smoking, concerns gaming machines.

Australians have already acknowledged the harmful effects of gambling on individuals and their communities. They have been successful in seeking a moratorium on pokie machines and at present Australia's federal government is planning a 12-month moratorium on Internet gambling.

Australia clearly has a message that is yet to sink in with New Zealand. It's a shame that as a society, we haven't learned from the smoking experience; the hugely addictive nature of the product, the vested interests of industry in nurturing the addiction, and the battle to get real information about the harmful effects into the public arena.

My hope for the next 5-10 years is to have New Zealand attitudes about gambling as well informed as they are about smoking. This is an important step towards guiding our social policy for the future.

Interestingly, casinos are only required to designate at least 25 percent of their gaming floor space as smokefree. Smoking is an addictive habit. We know that alcohol and gambling are also addictive habits. Yet, our casinos are essentially a breeding ground for all three addictions!

I'm still working on publicising the harmful effects of gambling, but in terms of smoking this government has proven it is committed to tougher smoke-free laws. This government has put money where its mouth is - $6.18 million to be exact towards subsidising nicotine replacement therapies, as well as funding for other smoking cessation schemes.

Even though smoking has clearly been identified as harmful, we still need groups like yours, to be ever vigilant in fending off the increasingly creative ways industry tries to promote its product to the vulnerable.

Maori rates are still alarmingly high and statistics tell a frightening picture of almost one in two Maori adults smoking. Maori deaths due to cigarette smoking are projected to double within 30 years. And the smoking rate among Maori women is particularly disturbing when you consider that half of Maori babies are born to mothers who smoke.

I am told that ASH works closely with the Maori smoke-free coalition (ATAK - Aparangi Tautoko Auahi Kore) and I commend this work. I encourage you to extend this focus to assist Maori groups at a grass-roots level by sharing your knowledge and expertise with Maori providers of smoking cessation programmes. You may also wish to consider printing your ASH smoke-free cards in Te Reo, and encouraging their use within Maori communities.

We have certainly come a long way since the birth of ASH. No doubt you will be following the government's progress on extending the Smokefree Environments Act. As I stated earlier I am unable to go into detail about the government's intentions in this area and as for the Alliance party my caucus is still working through various issues. I can outline my own personal thoughts and efforts with regard to the Enhanced Protection amendment bill.

Like my colleague the Hon Annette King, I personally prefer a move towards completely smoke-free bars. But we may need to look at a workable and effective compromise. While this may be unsatisfactory to you, I believe that a workable compromise could be formed around a smoke-free rule for 50 percent of a public space – including the bar areas where workers spend most of their time. I also believe smoking areas should be enclosed with a separate ventilation system.

The health and safety of bar workers must, I believe, be considered as part of any enhanced protection legislation.

For me, the 50 percent stand represents a fair compromise. It would not be considered too militant against smokers but still go some way to protecting the health of workers. I would like to see this extended to include casinos. But that I guess, is another battle.

I will briefly touch on the government's consideration of litigation against tobacco industries. While this is an issue that falls directly within the Attorney General's responsibilities, I will point out that as Minister of Consumer Affairs, I asked my officials to investigate possible action against tobacco companies under the Fair Trading Act. I now believe that such action may not be possible under this Act.

However this government is keen to pursue all avenues that will continue to send a clear message to the community that it is committed to dealing with smoking. It's important that you continue your advocacy work and I look forward to discussing other ideas and thoughts you have on the matter. Thank you and I wish you well for your meeting.


ENDS

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