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Repeal Of Smoke-Free Laws: A Gross Inequity. Urgent Call For National Leadership To Drive Meaningful Health Change

Christchurch, 29 November 2023

The Aukati Tupeka Aotearoa (ATA) national network of agencies expresses deep concern and disappointment over the incoming coalition government’s plan to repeal globally acclaimed smoke-free laws, signalling an alarming diversion from groundbreaking measures in public health.

This move would see smoking continue to kill five thousand people every year and maintain stark health inequities that undermine the wellbeing of all New Zealanders, heavily affecting our families in low socio-economic areas, Māori, and Pacific peoples.

“Aotearoa’s smokefree legislation is based on robust evidence and could bring profound health benefits,” says Catherine Manning Regional Manager, Takiri Mai te Ata Regional Stop Smoking Service. Leadership starts from the top, we need to see the heart of our government that protects the health of our generations now and in the future”.

The continuation of tobacco exposure, ease of accessibility, and sales to our citizens and future generations is not health equity. It is condemning a nation to ongoing ill-health and addiction struggles for the sake of profit over people. Repealing the legislation ignores a proven scientific evidence base, built over decades, by tobacco control advocates, community leaders and researchers.

“The Prime Minister’s agreement has sacrificed our children so tobacco companies can continue to profit. For a government concerned to act on evidence, they have shown a complete disregard for strong and consistent research findings.” says Manning.

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Allowing tobacco retailers to continue operating in areas where our most vulnerable community members live, work and study ignores the well-established link between tobacco exposure and adverse health outcomes. Rather than helping the many thousands of people who smoke and wish to quit, this decision will continue to ensure they face temptation at every corner dairy.

ATA Chairperson Martin Witt says “In 2011 we saw a previous National government endorse the goal for a Smokefree Aotearoa by 2025. A little over a decade later the same party have announced they will be revoking legislation informed by scientific data, research, and advice, while ignoring the community voice that supported submissions to parliament for these changes to come to fruition. The amendment is a critical step in advancing the reduction of tobacco harm and unnecessary mortality.

More than twelve people die every day from illnesses caused by smoking. The smoke-free legislation will see smoking prevalence reduce rapidly, leading to a substantial savings of 1.3 billion dollars over the next two decades. Morally and economically, the smokefree legislation makes sense.

Professor Janet Hoek, a co-director of the ASPIRE Centre at the University of Otago, states; “It is not too late for Prime Minister Luxon to assert his leadership and override this provision in the coalition agreements. Doing so would show an authority he has not yet displayed and make it clear who is running the coalition government.”

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