Smokefree rollback ‘deeply, widely felt’ by nurses, say Christchurch protestors

December 18, 2023

About 200 nurses, health workers and other opponents of the Government’s decision to roll back the SmokeFree Aotearoa legislation turned out in Christchurch today for a third protest against the move.

‘Everyone at the rally had a story about a family member or a friend who’s had a smoking-related disease or who has died.’

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It came hot on the heels of Wellington and Auckland protests on Friday — but unlike those which were organised in the main by the doctors’ union Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS), this was led by nurses.

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Erica Donovan

“It shows that [NZNO] members aren’t in support of the policy to roll back the smokefree futures act,” critical care nurse Erica Donovan told Kaitiaki.

“It’s deeply and widely felt. Everyone at the rally had a story about a family member or a friend who’s had a smoking-related disease or who has died.”

‘We have people who have been put on ventilators for another problem because their lungs have been so ravaged by smoking.’

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In the intensive care unit (ICU), where she worked, Donovan said staff regularly treated people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), severe asthma,  emphysema, bronchiectasis and lung cancer.

“And then there’re also the other issues that may not be directly affecting the lungs — strokes, diabetes, wound healing — all of these of things implicated when someone is a smoker,” she said.

“We have people who have been put on ventilators for another problem because their lungs have been so ravaged by smoking. It means they’re not going to recover like other people are going to.”

Smoking was also associated with undersized babies. “If National is so worried about the unborn child, this is a policy that affects the unborn.”

Members of Te Pāti Māori, the Greens, the Labour Party, the Cancer Society and Vape-free Kids NZ also turned out to the rally.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon revealed after coalition negotiations in November that the Government would repeal 2022 amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990. Those would have denicotised cigarettes, reduced retail outlets and, by 2027, banned cigarettes altogether for those born in and from 2009.

Tangata Atumotu Trust members at today’s protest in Christchurch.

‘ . . we should be accepting smoking as something that is in the past’.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis told Newshub that New Zealand First and Act had insisted the smokefree legislation be repealed, as it cost the Government about a billion dollars in tax revenue. Without its flagship policy of foreign property buyers’ tax, National needed other ways of funding its promised tax cuts.

Casey Costello

Donovan said ACT leader David Seymour spoke about self-responsibility.  “But the thing is, there’s always going to be regulations — you have to drive wearing a seatbelt. You have to register your car. These are things that culturally we have just accepted — so we should be accepting smoking as something that is in the past.”

Shane Reti

Former minister of health Ayesha Verrall has challenged Minister of Health Shane Reti — a GP — to honour his Hippocratic oath to do no harm, saying as a fellow doctor, she would resign over such a harmful policy.

Reti has handed tobacco and smokefree responsibilities to Associate Health Minister Casey Costello, a new New Zealand First MP.

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She told Kaitiaki on Friday that the coalition Government was committed to a smokefree 2025 goal — but its focus would be on deterrents and support for people to quit “rather than putting in place barriers to prevent or complicate the process by which people access smoked tobacco products”.

Christchurch protestors

See Also ‘nurses, health workers stand up against ‘incomprehensible’ Smokefree rollback.