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New Government Ignores Health Evidence And Moves To Repeal Smokefree Legislation

National Māori Public Health Organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, calls on the new government to reconsider repealing critical, world-leading ,smokefree legislation. The proposed repeal by National, New Zealand First (NZ First), and ACT Government is an unconscionable blow to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders. The recent announcement has generated calls by public health experts, the communities most affected by tobacco harm and the tobacco control sector to ensure the commitment remains for Aotearoa to achieve Smokefree2025.

The National Party's pre-election commitment promised to improve outcomes for Māori. However, the recently revealed coalition agreements between National, NZ First, and ACT brings forth a mixed narrative. On one hand, there's a pledge to augment funding for The Pharmaceutical Management Agency (Pharmac), emphasising a more patient-centric decision-making model. Yet, paradoxically, intentions to repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act 2022.

Our communities have spoken out unequivocally against the control that tobacco companies have over their wellbeing and the future of their whānau. This action disregards these community voices in order to raise revenue to pay for tax cuts for Aotearoa’s most wealthy. Rescinding denicotinisation requirements in tobacco and reducing the constraints on retail outlets, seemingly favour economic interests over the lives of whānau. The juxtaposition of these two points underscores a tension within the coalition's priorities, one ostensibly driven by community well-being and the other, regrettably, prioritising industry interests over public health.

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"Our new government have an opportunity to advocate for not only Māori rights and interests but the entire nation’s well-being," says Jason Alexander, interim Chief Executive Officer of Hāpai Te Hauora. "Aotearoa is held up internationally as an example of truly innovative public policy for its pioneering efforts in tobacco control, setting a precedent for evidence-based policies that protect public health. The proposed rollbacks, undermine this legacy and the hard-won progress in reducing smoking rates."

Our work at Hāpai Te Hauora in the tobacco control advocacy space is of paramount importance for the health interests of all whānau and communities. We have thirteen months until 2025, for the newly appointed government leading Aotearoa to see this goal out, and we cannot let our most vulnerable pay the price of tax cuts to satisfy and boost the pockets of our country's wealthiest.

Alexander says, "We urge the government to reconsider these regressive proposals and to uphold its commitment to improving health outcomes for all New Zealanders. By maintaining and strengthening tobacco control measures, New Zealand can continue to serve as a global leader for effective public health policy while minimising future harm against our people."

Hāpai Te Hauora remains steadfast in its dedication to advocating for evidence-based tobacco control measures and will continue to collaborate with stakeholders to ensure the health and well-being of all New Zealanders. If the repeal of these advancements in tobacco control is followed through, a great injustice will be perpetrated through shameful ignorance of clear and conclusive evidence.

Hāpai Te Hauora will continue to elevate the voices of Māori and our communities who want to break free from tobacco harm. We are calling for bold and systematic action, and for reason and robust scientific process to prevail.

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