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Tobacco Companies – It’s Time To Go


A speech delivered to the Aukati Kai Paipa Annual Hui
Turangawaewae, April 10, 2006.
Hone Harawira – MP Te Tai Tokerau


Those who know me already, know that I hate smoking with a passion.

At my kura we built a little seat outside the fence for the smokers. When they said “What happens if it rains?”,
I said “Go out one at a time and crawl under the seat”.

I tell Maori women who smoke that I find it hard to listen to them talk about the sanctity of the Whare Tangata, while they’re doing their best to choke it to death with cigarette smoke.

And I have fired people for smoking in the wrong places.

It hasn’t made me the most popular son of the North, but as Errol Flynn once said “frankly I don’t give a damn”. Tobacco is killing my people, and I will use every weapon to defeat this monster.


And it is surely killing us.

It’s the single biggest killer of Maori.
It accounts for 30% of all our deaths.
Even with the 5% drop last year, nearly half our people still smoke.
We’ve got the highest smoking rate in the country.
And because of that, we also have higher rates of lung cancer, heart disease, respiratory infections, glue ear, and diabetes.

And we start young too – 30% of Maori girls already smoke before they turn 13.

Like most Maori boys I used to smoke. Started when I was 10, and I could buy a packet of Capstan 10 for 1/.3d. Cheap, no filter, nicotine packed, rubbish cigarettes.

And over the next 25 years, I tried heaps of times to give up, but I always went back.

Until about 15-20 years ago, when I stopped for good …


I stopped because lung cancer killed my uncle Maori Marsden, who was a great mentor to a number of us back in the day. I was so pissed off with him for dying, that I stopped the day he died.

Maori Marsden used to smoke all the time. His son Rangitane says it was his way of relaxing and slowing his mind down. He would sit up late, writing and smoking cigarettes.

Maori died at 69 from lung cancer. It was a slow painful death, and I refused to watch this magnificent man waste away.

Few of our people live past 70, and when they go, we lose our wisdom, we lose our history, and we lose our future.

For Maori people, this is a grief we carry with us always.


Liberals will say though that smoking is about Maori people making choices. But I say no. HELL NO!!!

Smoking is a part of colonisation. Tobacco has had its day in America and Europe, and now they are looking for other places to conquer; places like Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and now China. They’re colonising places even America can’t get into.

And smoking ain’t a choice; it’s a disease. And just like the flu came with colonisation, so did tobacco.

In fact, at the launch of the 2001 Maori Quit campaign, even the Prime Minister admitted that smoking came with the coloniser.

Addiction to cigarettes is also part of institutional racism,
because tobacco companies use their structures, their policies and their practices to oppress our people in the same way as government agencies have.

These companies are owned by white people driven by a lust for profit. They have no conscience about selling a product that kills our people, and in case you don’t believe me, here’s a quote from a Tobacco Company Executive who said:

“We don't smoke this shit - we sell it. We reserve the right to smoke it, to the young, the poor, the black and the stupid”

As citizens of Aotearoa, we should have the same rights as anyone else in this country, and in this case we’re talking about something really fundamental: access to life itself.


Everyone knows that I am against smoking, but it’s not smokers who are my target.

What I am planning to do, is table a private members bill to make the production, manufacture and sale of tobacco products, illegal.

When I first said that publicly, it sent shockwaves through the Pakeha anti-smoking community, but just last week, TV3 reported a poll showing that 52% of New Zealanders are also in favour of getting tobacco out of Aotearoa.

And honestly folks, getting rid of tobacco is the only logical conclusion to the work you and many others have been doing for years. It makes more sense than just trying to manage the impact of tobacco.

Think about the untold money spent on debating and legislating health warnings on cigarette packets, and then restrictions on points of sale, and then smoke-free workplaces, and then smoke-free bars.

And then think about the hundreds and thousands of hours, and the millions of dollars we have poured into smoking cessation programmes as well.

That’s all good, it’s all heading in the right direction, but what we’ve done, is simply create one industry to manage another.

The tobacco companies have got us thinking we’re making a difference, when in fact, following the current model means another 50 years to win this battle.

It’s time we turned our guns on the industry that’s killing our people.

Over the past couple of months, I have been all round the country talking to people in tobacco control about how we can get the tobacco industry out of Aotearoa.

And now we’re putting together a Battle Plan to make the production and sale of tobacco products illegal.


Well the first suggestion was twenty five years, but I thought ten years would be good, because I wanted my mokopuna on his 21st birthday, to not be able to see cigarettes on sale in any shop, in any town, anywhere in the country.

But after hearing all the horror stories, and the urgency of the problem we face, we have set ourselves a deadline of 10 December 2010; six years to the day, after restaurants and bars went smoke-free.

Naturally people are going to say that’s too soon, it cant’ be done, it’ll be too hard blah, blah, blah, blah … But if someone in your family is dying from this filthy disease, tomorrow can’t come quick enough. So five years it is.

· A Petition to Parliament.
52% already want tobacco out of Aotearoa, and once people start hearing the logic of our arguments, that figure will grow quickly.

· A Referendum.
Some people want to try to make this a referendum decision at the next election.

· A Royal Commission.
Again, some of the medical and legal fraternity are suggesting a Royal Commission to highlight the destruction being done by tobacco, and to recommend government make tobacco illegal.

· Legislation, to make the production, manufacture and sale of tobacco products, illegal.
We are looking at drafting the bill over the next couple of months, and also considering whether to put it up as a Private Members Bill, or get the numbers for a Government Bill.

· Legal Action.
We have already received advice that we have a good case for legal action against the tobacco companies on a number of fronts. This will be one of the major strike areas of the campaign.


We are in a war. The opposition already have thousands of troops, and billions of dollars to fight us with. To fight, we will need a broad base of support for our cause.

We should include every Maori who has had a member of their extended whanau suffer from tobacco disease, and from my calculation, that includes just about every Maori born in the last 100 years, and probably every Maori born in the next 50 years, because that’s how long it’s going to take to breed this filth out of our systems.

We should include all those Pakeha who know that tobacco is wrong, and that for the very future of our country, we must put an end to tobacco insanity.

We should include all health professionals who are forced to deal with the horrific deterioration, mutilation, and destruction of whanau that tobacco causes.

We should include all politicians with enough courage to put aside the billion dollars in tax revenue that this murderer brings every year, in the interests of a healthier society.

But most importantly, and I say this with all sincerity, we must include every member of Aukati Kai Paipa. If we are to win, I will need to call on you, because you see what other people only talk about.

You see the addiction that hooks our people to this disease; you see the fear people have of not being here to enjoy their mokopuna; you see the pleading in people’s eyes to help them break out of this trap; you see through the bullshit of smokers who say that smoking is alright; and you see the poverty in those whanau where mum, dad, the kids, and grandma and granddad are stinking up their homes, and smoking away their future.

Aukati Kai Paipa will have a critical role to play in the battle ahead, because our road is strewn with obstacles.


Like any Maori initiative, I am getting the usual resistance from Pakeha who have set themselves up as the experts on all things Maori.

On the day I spoke out at Select Committee, Pakeha people in the anti-smoking lobby came out against my statement. They even rang Geneva to try to get the Maori Smokefree Coalition leader, Shane Bradbrook, to oppose my stand.

Other well-meaning Pakeha have tried to get me to back off the hard-line, to go easy, and to not make waves; co-operation and collaboration are safer paths.

I have even heard criticism of the research into your programme, from Pakeha who are supposed to be on your side, who say the research wasn’t robust enough.

But with all respect to the individuals concerned, their comments betray an ongoing ignorance of the Maori situation. Their comments are insulting, sometimes racist, and intended to ridicule the stand we have taken.

The Director of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), Becky Freeman, has been one of the most vocal opponents. She says our plan will encourage the development of a black-market, and she is actively canvassing for overseas support for her position. She is in effect, trying to smother our plans with a smoke-screen of jargon and rhetoric.

So what does Freeman support? Well, it seems that she favours regulation, but in fact, arguing that regulation of the industry is better than getting rid of it, is like saying “let’s keep the industry – we can work with them.”

So what we have is the Director of an organisation funded by taxpayer dollars to fight the impact of smoking, effectively aligning herself with the tobacco industry.

But tobacco companies aren’t in the business of social good – they’re in the business of profit, and they’re in the business of death. They sell a product that kills people, so that they can make money.

And anyone who thinks tobacco companies give a toss about the well-being and life expectancy of indigenous peoples, is in serious need of radical brain surgery.


The Maori Party has a slogan, “Defending Maori rights, and advancing Maori interests, for the benefit of Aotearoa”, and that’s what this campaign is all about.

I look forward to 10 December 2010 with a passion, to a time when everyone in Aotearoa can be smoke-free.

And I look forward to when Maori people can finally enjoy the same rights and privileges as everyone else, because we have given so much, and because we deserve better.


Before I close I’d like to acknowledge a couple of people.

I give thanks to the Maori Women’s Welfare league for all they have done to try to stop this disease from spreading.

I thank Dr Paparangi Reid and Marewa Glover for the quality of their research which backs up the work we have to do.

I congratulate Shane Bradbrook from Te Reo Marama (the Maori Smokefree Coalition) for his comments. I like his commitment, I like his style, I like his fire, and I think his Maori Murder campaign is right on the mark.

And finally, I congratulate all of you from Aukati Kai Paipa. Ministry research shows you achieve a quit rate three times higher than other programmes, and that’s the level of commitment and success we’re going to need if we are to win this battle.


A Filipino political prisoner I visited in a jail in Manila once, said to me: “Happy are those who dream dreams, and are prepared to pay the price to make those dreams come true”

Today we dream of a time when our children will not smoke cigarettes, because we put the tobacco companies out of business. Tomorrow we start taking the steps to make that dream come true.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, kia ora tatou katoa.


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