Nurses, health workers stand up against ‘incomprehensible’ Smokefree rollback

December 8, 2023

Nurses and NZNO — Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa are joining a wave of outrage and protest from health, iwi and community organisations over the Government’s shock decision to repeal world-first smokefree laws.

“Our future up in smoke” rallies are being held next Wednesday, December 13, at 1pm in Wellington at Parliament (details) and in Auckland at the University of Auckland’s Grafton campus (details).

Rallies are being held in Auckland and Wellington next Wednesday at 1pm, with nurses, kaiāwhina, doctors and health-care workers expected to turn out in force.

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Respiratory nurses say the move is “regressive” and “incomprehensible”, and warn it will lead to more deaths on top of the 5000 New Zealanders who already die from tobacco-related illness every year.

‘We urge the Government to reconsider this repeal and prioritise the health of our people, whānau and environment.’

Māori, Pacific and low socio-economic communities would be hit hardest, college members told Kaitiaki.

“We urge the Government to reconsider this repeal and prioritise the health of our people, whānau and environment — especially the 700,000 individuals living with respiratory conditions.”

NZNO college of respiratory nurses say repealing the Smokefree legislation is ‘incomprehensible’.

After November’s coalition negotiations, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon revealed New Zealand’s Smokefree legislation would be repealed by March 2024.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act was amended in 2022 to require denicotisation of cigarettes by 2025; reducing outlets by 90 per cent to 600; and by January 2027 banning cigarettes sales altogether for anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.

‘This measure would drive consumption and demand down, and make all tobacco markets — legal and illegal — almost worthless.’

Also under the three-party coalition deal, National dropped its proposed tax on foreign property buyers which was to have funded tax cuts, after pressure from its new coalition partners.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, and Leader of the House Chris Bishop hold their first post cabinet press conference on November 29, where they revealed the Coalition deal. Photo: Stuff ltd.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis told TV3 NewsHub that New Zealand First and Act had insisted on repealing the smokefree legislation, which cost the Government “about a billion dollars” in tax revenue.

However, Luxon later told RNZ it was concerned fewer cigarette retailers would become “massive targets” for thieves and ram raids, and drive a black market.

Government ‘misinformation’

These claims have been ridiculed as “misinformation” by public health advocates Health Coalition Aotearoa.

Co-chair Boyd Swinburn said a 90 per cent drop in cigarette retailers, alongside dwindling nicotine levels, would mean “less, not more such crime”.

“This measure would drive consumption and demand down, and make all tobacco markets – legal and illegal – almost worthless.”

Lisa Te Morenga
Boyd Swinburn

An open letter signed by 104 community, health, iwi organisations, including NZNO, describes the move as immoral, undemocratic and “unfairly sprung on the voting public”, as no parties campaigned on repealing Smokefree laws.

Research showed that, if fully implemented, the Smokefree reforms would save the health system $1.3 billion over the next 20 years, and reduce death rates by 22 per cent for women and nine per cent for men, Swinburn said.

Ending the supply of cigarettes to those born on or after January 1, 2009, — commonly known as the Smokefree generation — would further drive down demand, Swinburn said.

Coalition co-chair Lisa Te Morenga said the move would cost “thousands” of lives and cause the most harm to Māori, who have the highest rates of smoking at 19 per cent.

“It’s a further insult to our tangata whenua by the newly formed coalition Government on top of the loss of Te Aka Whai Ora – the Māori Health Authority.”

Morally ‘deplorable’

Urging members to turn out to next week’s rallies, NZNO chief executive Paul Goulter said repealing Smokefree legislation was a “morally deplorable move that will be a massive set-back for health in Aotearoa.

Paul Goulter with member Lisa Blackmore

“Nurses and health workers must be visible in letting the new Government know there is deep concern in our communities about these proposed changes to our smokefree laws,” Goulter said.

“Our future up in smoke” rallies are being held next Wednesday, December 13, at 1pm in Wellington at Parliament (details) and in Auckland at the University of Auckland’s Grafton campus (details).

Members could also sign a petition: Put our People over Profit – Stop the Repeal of the Smokefree Legislation and keep the law launched by Māori public health advocates Hāpai Te Hauora — and signed by nearly 40,000 people on December 8.

‘Breakneck’ speed
Sarah Dalton

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS) chief executive Sarah Dalton said its members were “appalled” by the decision to roll back world-leading law reforms at “breakneck speed” within Parliament’s first 100 days.

She said the doctors’ union had already expressed concern to Minister of Health Shane Reti and urged all health professionals to sign the petition, turn out to next week’s rallies and raise concerns with their local MP.

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Health Coalition Aotearoa has also launched a Give-a-little funding appeal to campaign to keep Smokefree legislation. Its background facts on the SmokeFree legislation can be found here.

See also: Stop the repeal of Smokefree legislation