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Tobacco Industry Inquiry Report: Smokefree Nation 2025

Tobacco Industry Inquiry Report: Smokefree Nation 2025

Opinion by Shane Bradbrook

If New Zealand was to become a Smokefree Nation by 2025, an aspiration of the recent historic Maori Affairs Select Committee (MASC) Inquiry’s Report on the tobacco industry and its products impact on Maori, what is the worst that could happen to this country?

More people live past 65 years of age? Ex-smokers spend money on other goods and services? Productive increases minus the hourly smoko? Health services can focus on other pressing health issues? A nanny gets to spend more time with their mokopuna? Maori life expectancy increases?

Of course the sky is not going to fall with the advent of a Smokefree Nation. Yet you get all of the above benefits with the only real tangible loss being an industry that for decades has taken away freedom of choice via a pack of addictive cigarettes and a large dose of deception. Sadly, immunity for its operation has largely been given on the basis that it brought in tax revenue for successive Governments whilst also trimming superannuation budgets by 5000 New Zealanders, 600 of which are Maori, each year with regular monotony.

The demise of the tobacco industry requires no sombre soliloquy. There will however be a palpable uneasy within their corporate towers as there is a real chance their business shelf life is arriving sooner than they would have wanted or expected. Recent comments by Associate Minister Tariana Turia regarding strong legislative measures are going to register with the industry like a smoker coughing up a lung.

Throughout the Inquiry process there has been a societal evolution that has questioned the legitimacy of having such an industry still operating in this country let alone this century. The industry will also be acutely aware that political leadership shown here will have a cascading effect on our immediate neighbours in Australia and the Pacific. This in turn will eventually have massive global ramifications.

Whilst some proponents may cry that “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” no one seems to provide any rational argument that demonstrably supports one single benefit for keeping tobacco circulating through our society. The burden placed on New Zealand economically, socially and culturally is no longer acceptable or tolerable. Can we afford to maintain the status quo? Is this industry really worth the burden it imposes? The simple and consistent message given to the MASC Inquiry was an unequivocal no.

The content of the Report clearly outlines measures that will curb the tobacco epidemic well before 2025. Measures such as plain packaging, removal of displays, banning of convert sponsorship and vending machines, annual tax increases, and increasing smokefree environments are useful initiatives in further denormalising tobacco. Underpinning all of this is a consistent message of supporting smokers to quit through campaigns, programmes and easier access to products that will support them.
Political courage or will must now be reflected in the strongest legislation and regulation by the Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia. These recommendations demand a positive response that will curtail the unnecessary carnage. After decades of free market access to generations of New Zealanders it is simply time for the tobacco industry to be given a use by date – 2025 – at this point.

The leadership reflected in the MASC report should be commended for acknowledging the pain, suffering and death that tobacco has had on all New Zealanders. Being a world leader in resisting the tobacco industry is not easy but merely walking into a bar or restaurant reminds us all that change for the better does occur. A Smokefree Nation by 2025 is an aspiration that can and will be met.

ENDS

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