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Q+A interview: Maori Party MP Hone Harawira

Sunday 27th September, 2009

Q+A’s Paul Holmes interviews Maori Party MP, Hone Harawira.

Points of interest:
- Smoking inquiry to highlight possible law changes, go after tobacco companies
- Gangs have killed no more than 500 New Zealanders since 1970, tobacco has killed 100,000
- Maori Party MP wants “production, sale and manufacture of tobacco banned”, but won’t ban smoking
- Limited tobacco production would be maintained for addicts
- New Zealand should be a smokefree tourist destination with duty free cigarettes also banned

The interview has been transcribed below. The full length video interviews and panel discussions from this morning’s Q+A can be seen on tvnz.co.nz at,

PAUL Well talk about the reformed smoker, welcome back, Mr Hone Harawira the Maori MP, he used to smoke, now he wants to lynch the tobacco company executives. The facts are simple, more than 7,000 New Zealanders smoke, nearly half of Maori smoke.

Seven hundred thousand actually Paul.

PAUL More than 700,000 New Zealanders smoke, nearly half of Maori smoke and one in three Maori die from smoking cigarettes. This week the Maori Affairs Select Committee granted Hone Harawira's request for a full inquiry into the tobacco industry and the consequences of tobacco use especially for Maori, this will begin next year, this inquiry, we asked tobacco companies to appear this morning to put their case, British American Tobacco said no, Imperial said they would only consider coming on once they knew more about the inquiry's plans. Phillip Morris did not phone us back. Hone Harawira the man they all seem to be frightened of joins me on Q+A, good morning. What do you actually want the inquiry to do?

HONE I want the inquiry to highlight the deaths of New Zealanders from this product and hopefully come up with some ideas about legislative measures to address them, simple as that.

PAUL What do you want to actually see Hone, do you want to see a ban, do you want to see prohibition?

HONE I'd like to see the production sale and manufacture of tobacco in Aotearoa banned yeah. I think that unlike alcohol and other drugs which people like, with cigarettes most people actually want to stop more than 80% of smokers want to stop, so it's not like there's going to be a black market, it's an opportunity for us to do something to help this country become healthy.

PAUL But they are addicted so they will continue to get their smokes.

HONE Well I do know from talking to smokers and from having been a smoker myself, that all we want most of us, is an opportunity to stop, we just don’t know how. Most smokers say to me they support this because they can't stop themselves, this would help them.

PAUL But prohibition on drugs doesn’t seem to work, we know from the United States in the 1920s with alcohol, dope is banned in New Zealand as well, but plenty of dope around, P is banned, plenty of P around.

HONE Again, those things still flourish in the black market because most people still want them, most cigarette smokers don’t want to smoke, it's an addiction that they don’t actually enjoy. You can't create a black market in a situation where people don’t really want the product.

PAUL So you'd ban cigarette sales, ban tobacco, production of tobacco, marketing tobacco, well that’s already banned, you'd ban the sales but people will still want their smokes, that’s what I'm saying, because you would now turn them into criminals.

HONE No no no no no.

PAUL Well we've had that....

HONE No no no no no no no, we have deliberately not targeted smokers because I know from having been a smoker that if you target smokers all you do is piss them off, so you go after the tobacco companies and most smokers actually support what it is that we're trying to do here, that’s number one, number two you have to arrange a regime whereby you can help people wean themselves off tobacco, but again going back to that fact again, that most New Zealanders who do smoke want to stop, it's not that hard to do.

PAUL You see even Helen Clark thought that prohibition had its limits and might not work, she said the trouble with prohibition and banning and she is very stridently anti tobacco, she said it makes criminals of addicts. So the courts clog up because someone's been caught smoking a cigarette.

HONE No no no, no no no, the courts don’t clog up with smokers, because we're not banning smoking, we're banning the production, sale and manufacture of tobacco. The only people who would end up in court would be the tobacco companies, but if we pass the law they'd be gone tomorrow Paul, wouldn’t you be happy?

PAUL Probably so I suppose, but where would we get our smokes? From the gangs?

HONE No you wouldn’t get your smokes from the gangs.

PAUL Of course you would you'd drive it underground.

HONE No you wouldn’t get your smokes from the gangs, because the gangs find greater money in other drugs, cigarettes are not that kind of a product. You would maintain a measure of production for weaning off purposes, for all of those kinds of situations but again going back to the knowledge and the fact that most New Zealanders want to stop it's just enough to get them out of the game. Paul, 5,000 New Zealanders every single year die form cigarettes. If a country did that to us Paul, we'd declare war, a company's doing it to us and we're letting it happen. There's something wrong there.

PAUL At the same time though Hone a nicotine addict doesn’t rush out and bang an old lady on the head because he hasn’t got any smokes left. Why don’t you tackle crime?

HONE That’s great if a smoker's not going to go to knock and old lady on the head over cigarettes, well let's just ban it, it's not gonna lead to any crime.

PAUL No but what I'm saying is the nicotine addict is not a danger to society, look at the prison population announced this week, more people in prison, 50% of them Maori, Maori comprise 50% of the population, why don’t you take on ...

HONE If you want to get into this whole sort of gang thing Paul, in the history of the gangs say since 1970 there'd be less than 500 people have died as a result of that, in that same 30 year period, in that same 30 year period, listen to this Paul nearly 100,000 New Zealanders have died from tobacco. What's the big fuss about gangs, it's not gangs that’s killing New Zealanders it's tobacco.

PAUL Alright I'm sure that many people are sympathetic to what you're trying to do.

HONE I think most people are, you are.

PAUL Yes, yes, and they know your heart is in it, but can I say that the time the money and the effort from the inquiry, that the inquiry will cost you and take, the inquiry will say yes people get addicted to smoking it's terrible, and this is a terrible product to be selling, they get ill and then they die. Now Labour and National do not support a ban, so where do you go – it's all over rover.

HONE No it's not all over rover, and one of the reasons why we want to take the inquiry on the road is to try and really maximise public support for action to be taken against tobacco companies.

PAUL Would you be able to bring them in duty free?

HONE Hell no, I think I'd like New Zealand to be the very first major tourist destination that was smoke free, wouldn’t it have been great if John Key had have been able to make that his number one on his top ten on Letterman.

PAUL Most interesting, Hone Harawira, Maori Party MP, thank you very much for coming in. Still to come your feedback on Q+A, what's going to be happening in the week ahead.

The Panel’s response to HONE HARAWIRA interview

PAUL What do you make of Mr Harawira's initiative, of his inquiry, and he wants to be the first country in the world ...

STEVE MAHAREY – Massey University Vice Chancellor
Great idea, pushes the envelope out but it's never gonna happen, I think that the points that you raised are the reasons it'll stop in its tracks, but you know everyone would say at least we run the argument so we can talk about it.

RAYMOND MILLER – Political Analyst
I like his passion, parts of the argument are very persuasive, but I don’t think that you can ever achieve a ban on smoking, I mean work on getting rid of advertising what remains of it, increase taxes, because after all the cost, the health costs are quite significant, work on public education, but there's also personal responsibility. I think all of those things are important.

PAUL That is true, but you're dealing with addictions of course. I mean I like what he said, you see he said, I think he was trying to make the distinction – it wouldn’t be illegal to smoke, as long as your outside or something, it wouldn’t be illegal to smoke, but he wants to hit the tobacco companies, no marketing, manufacturing, selling. What do you make of it?

Patronising and racist actually, I read his speech where he said that smoking was a colonial imposition upon Maori and that’s why it should be done. A load of rubbish, actually native Americans gave smoking – it's the other way around and killed a lot more white people but leave that to one side. Look the thing that gets me is this, he gave up smoking, it's a matter of personal responsibility and he's trying to claim that other people can't, it would be far better if he actually said to people this is something you have to take personal responsibility for, it's not easy but I've done it, if I've done it you can do it, instead he wants the colonial state to ban cigarettes for him. I mean it's the most patronising statement I've seen from a politician in a long time, and there's plenty of competition for that position, but what he's doing won't work, and just because it's a good cause that doesn’t make it right.

STEVE But he should do it, because if you go to a restaurant in Europe now, I don’t know if you’ve done this over the last little while, you sit there with the smoke wafting around, little images he's putting up of say a Tourism Minister saying come to New Zealand you'll be free of all that kinda thing, I actually seek out restaurants when I'm overseas now to get away from smokers. I think it's a public health issue, he's right to raise it ....

RICHARD We get a large number of tourists actually from Asia and if they found out that they can't smoke here, they sure as heck wouldn’t be coming.

STEVE It's good to raise the argument.

PAUL Well I think it's good to raise the argument but there are other arguments need to be raised too, like we have what appears to be a P scourge, we have a crime problem, that also is very addictive as we know. We find out this week that 50% of our prison population is Maori, why not take this stuff on?

RICHARD Well we should, but I'm afraid I'd go the other way, were banning in fact marijuana. In the valley that I'm in there's so much marijuana grown and smoked that you actually see people smoking it quite openly. Now the Police can't stop that, and yet here we are having an MP who apparently is so out of touch with his electorate doesn’t realise that marijuana is growing wild in the north and is now saying he's going to ban tobacco. Look if I was in organised crime and I heard Hone this morning, I'd be writing out a cheque for his campaign. If you really want to get organised crime going and flourishing and have a Mafia, let's ban tobacco, that'd be great.

PAUL Quick word on the politics of what he's going to do, I mean what can you call a win?

RAYMOND Well I think a win is to draw the public attention to it, and I think that’s very important, and I think particularly as a Maori health issue, it's something we should all be extremely concerned about.

PAUL Yeah but what about the Maori health issue of smoking the dope in the valley?

RICHARD Sure, does anyone think that young Maori don’t know that smoking's bad for them? Of course they do.

PAUL Coming up in the week ahead, big story you might be looking for each of you, Parliament's in recess.

STEVE It is in recess and Prime Minister's on holiday, so I guess everything will slow down, but the stories that will continue I think are people like Sue Bradford resigning, that’s got some big implications for the Greens, the Emissions Trading debate will go on to the Select Committee this week, so the stories I think for this week will be the ones that have been carrying on from that three weeks of urgency and the trip overseas.

RAYMOND The housing accommodation issue with respect to the Bill English situation, I mean that one really has to be resolved, I mean not only are we in the middle of a recession, but he is the Minister of Finance, there's a need for moral leadership, where is this primary residence, for goodness sake declare it as being Wellington and let's get over it.

RICHARD Oh the biggest story I think is Bill English saying he's going to borrow another four hundred million dollars this week, he borrowed four hundred million dollars last week, and he's going to go on doing it apparently for 30 years. He should sort out where he lives and then realise we can't borrow four hundred million dollars a week.

PAUL Thank you panel very much.


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