New Zealand

New Zealand smoking ban: Māori mourn loss of hard-won smoking reform

December 11, 2023 2:34 pm

[Source: BBC]

When New Zealand’s new government announced it was scrapping the country’s world-leading tobacco laws, it came as a particularly hard blow to Māori people.

With the Indigenous community having the highest smoking rates, its leaders had fought for reforms for years.

The country’s model was the first to spell a complete end to smoking – and so was hailed by health advocates globally.

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From 2024, the laws would have cut nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, eliminated 90% of retailers allowed to sell tobacco, and created “smoke-free” generations of citizens by banning cigarette sales to anyone born after 2008. But with the measures now abandoned, Māori stand to lose the most, advocates say.

Last year, Teresa Butler and her six-year-old daughter sat in front of a room full of politicians, begging them to enact the laws.

Dressed in a traditional feathered cloak, her voice quavered as she thrust a photo of her mother at the committee. She presented the death certificate.

Cause of death: Emphysema, the result of more than 30 years of tobacco smoking.

Teresa had her first cigarette aged eight. She recalls running down to the shops in Christchurch, with five dollars in hand and a note from her mum for a packet of smokes.

She only kicked the habit when she fell pregnant.

“I wanted a healthy baby to continue a healthy strong whakapapa [family line],” she said.

She has spent the last seven years of her life as an anti-smoking counsellor, going into Māori neighbourhoods to try and wean people off the deadly addiction.

These days, only 8% of New Zealand’s adult population are daily smokers, but the number is more than double that- 19.9% – among Māori. It is even higher among Māori women.

It takes a toll, not only on health but finances.

A packet of cigarettes in New Zealand costs NZ$40 (£19; $24) on average. Chain smokers can inhale a pack a day.

“It’s stress, it’s a lack of education, they have children, they’re single mums,” says Ms Butler, relaying a typical encounter.

“I go into a home and I can clearly see her kids don’t have any nappies on. There’s no food in the cupboard. And I’m saying to her: ‘It’s winter time, you’ve got no power. Why don’t you have any money?’ And she’ll tell me: “Because I’ve just spent the last $30 on smokes.”

Smokers tell her they want to kick the habit but feel trapped.

“They say to me: ‘Look, it’s too easy to access this Teresa. I can wake up at one o’clock in the morning, have anxiety, be depressed and go down to the local shop, the 24-hour petrol station and purchase cigarettes.’ It’s just a quick fix, just like alcohol.”