Speech at launch of Auahi Kore Aotearoa Mahere Rautaki 2025, the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan

E ngā mana

E ngā reo

E ngā iwi

Tēnā koutou katoa

Ka huri ki ngā mana whenua o te rohe nei. Tēnā koutou

He mihi hoki ki a tatou kua tau mai nei I raro I te kaupapa o te raa.

No reira tēnā koutou katoa

Like every doctor I have hundreds of stories about people who smoke.

But one stands out.

Shane came to my clinic.

He was a nurse at the hospital, and had a wicked sense of humour.

Of course he knew smoking would kill him, especially with his underlying condition.

And he knew the habit was taking a chunk out of his wages.

He had every reason in the world to quit but couldn’t because tobacco is one of the most addictive and harmful substances in the world.

When I took on this job, I felt hugely privileged that I had the responsibility for achieving our smokefree goal. Not just for Shane, but for the hundreds of patients I cared for who were killed or maimed by tobacco. I got into politics to make a difference to the health of New Zealanders at a large scale. Because working in a hospital my role was almost literally being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. To go smokefree, as a nation, is actually delivering the help before it’s too late – and ultimately saving thousands of lives.

I would like to acknowledge the Rt Hon Helen Clark and Dame Tariana Turia, both joining us by live stream, and all the other organisations, services and officials – including Dr Ashley Bloomfield who have helped us reach this milestone.

My thanks also go to those who helped to shape the action plan during the public consultation

The history of tobacco control in Aotearoa New Zealand

Today I am thrilled to launch the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan. This is an important milestone in the history of tobacco control. It is a bold plan and I’m very proud to have my name associated with it.

We have come a long way. Thirty years ago, even if you weren’t a smoker yourself, you would have been hard pressed to go a day without being exposed to second-hand smoking at your local café, pub and even your workplace. Cigarettes advertisements were everywhere, and tobacco companies would sponsor sporting and other events.  I remember my first athletics prize-giving in a smoke-filled clubroom.

And that was normal back then.

Our first tobacco control legislation was former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s Smoke Free Environments Act 1990 which banned smoking in offices, ended tobacco sponsorship and banned the sale of cigarettes to people under the age of 16 - later raised to 18.

It was world leading legislation at the time. But today it’s hard to imagine life without these laws.

And in 2004 we were only the third country in the world to ban smoking in bars, cafes and restaurant.

And 10 years ago, we adopted the Smokefree goal in response to recommendations from the Māori Affairs Select Committee. That was an ambitious goal. The committee heard powerful submissions up and down the country about the heart-breaking consequences of smoking for Māori.

The Committee’s 42 recommendations laid a platform for this Action Plan.   

Today we recognise the hard work of those who have organised in the community towards our common goal – everyone who has worked for their marae or sports team to be smokefree, and rangatahi who campaigned for smokefree and vapefree cars. I also honour the work of parliamentarians who have championed this cause. Who have legislated in the interest of people not profits.

Smoking rates and impacts in New Zealand 

Certainly, the decline in daily smoking year-on-year shows we are heading in the right direction.

But smoking still kills 4,000-5000 people a year. 

Sadly, after working in a public hospital, I don’t just have one story of a life destroyed by smoking to share. I saw the consequences of smoking everyday - heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, bronchitis and asthma, blindness, amputations and premature births.   And sadly these impacts fall most heavily on Māori and Pacific communities. Smoking accounts for 2.5 years of the 8 year difference in Maori and non-Maori life expectancy.

It doesn’t need to be this way.

By going smokefree, we could live in a country where our tamariki spend more quality years with their tupuna, we reduce the number of high-risk pregnancies, strong, healthy babies are born at term, fewer people are in hospital with smoking related diseases and people have more money to spend on the things they need and enjoy. 

Bold new measures 

Our projections show that New Zealand European population is likely to achieve smokefree status by 2025, but Māori won’t reach this goal for decades if we don’t act now. 

We must move away from a business-as-usual approach and try something new. No one single intervention will help us to achieve a smokefree 2025. We need a dramatic shift in the environment to de-normalise smoking. It will take a multi-faceted approach and bold evidence-based measures to be smokefree.

We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we are legislating a smokefree generation by making it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to those aged 14, when the law comes into effect. As they age, they and future generations will never be able to legally purchase tobacco, because the truth is there is no safe age to start smoking.

We are also reducing the appeal, addictiveness and availability of smoked tobacco products. New laws will mean only smoked tobacco products containing very low-levels of nicotine can be sold, with a significant reduction in the number of shops who can sell them.

Alongside policies in the action plan that will become law, practical support measures for smokers are also being prioritised.

Smoking is a difficult habit to kick. When I think of all the smokers I cared for, the vast majority wanted to stop and had tried many times. So we will also be scaling up support to help people quit and will be investing in more health promotion programmes. In addition, we need to change the norms around smoking in parts of our community. Māori leadership will be crucial to our success.

COVID has shown what we can do when we all work together towards one public health goal. Communities and hauora providers have mobilised and made a remarkable difference on the ground and we want to build on that momentum to achieve our smokefree goal. Those at the flax roots can take heart that their efforts will be backed up by strong government regulation and enforcement. 

Our priority is protecting our taonga – our people, our whānau, our communities.

Kaumatua will get longer years with their whanau and see their moko grow. Newborns will spend their first precious moments in their parents’ arms, and not in neonatal intensive care. 

Our people will benefit greatly from these changes. There will be an estimated $5.25 billion in savings from future health expenditure.

These changes will save lives and could increase Māori life expectancy and we cannot put a price on that.

Closing remarks 

There is a lot to do as we head swiftly towards 2025.

From our tamariki to our kaumātua, it will take all of us working together to tackle smoking. We can all be part of history in the making.    

So for Shane and others who have been trying to quit, you’ve been on my mind all along as we developed this action plan. This is for you. 

I would like to finish today by sharing a part of the powerful mihi you will find in the opening of the action plan.   

E ngā rangatira o te motu, tēnā koutou katoa.

Amohia ake te ora o te iwi, tērā te kupu a te kīngi Māori ki a tātou katoa.

Ko tērā hoki te kaupapa o te rā. Nō reira, tēnā tātou katoa.

I acknowledge the many leaders of this land. The health of our people is paramount, that was the Māori king’s word to all of us. It’s also the reason we are here today. Therefore, I acknowledge each of us here.