'They lack balls': Hone Harawira slams Govt's anti-smoking efforts

Former MP Hone Harawira has slammed the Labour-led Government for what he says is a lack of funding towards ending cigarette consumption in New Zealand. 

The Government has set a goal of New Zealand becoming smoke-free by 2025, but some 600,000 Kiwis are still smoking, according to Smoke Free New Zealand. 

Māori women have the highest smoking rate at 38 percent, followed by Māori men at 32 percent.

Hone Harawira says it's not unrealistic for New Zealand to become smoke-free by 2025, but the Government needs to target the tobacco industry - not the smokers. 

He said the Government's cessation funding - the process of discontinuing tobacco smoking - is a "measly three percent". 

"The Government is still whacking the little guys - the smokers and the addicts - and doing nothing to go after the industry," Mr Harawira told the AM Show on Tuesday. 

"The Government keeps taking more and more money but doing less and less."

To reduce the number of people smoking in New Zealand, the Government should target the tobacco industry rather than target smokers and addicts, he says. They could enforce reducing the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, reducing the flavouring in them, and reducing the points of sale. 

"All they've done is bash the poor people and taken more money. We have to turn that around," said Mr Harawira, reflecting on an upsurge in violence against dairy owners after government excise increases raised the price of a packet of cigarettes to over $25.

In 2010, the Māori Affairs Select Committee began an inquiry into the tobacco industry and the effects of tobacco use on Māori. The inquiry found that while overall smoking rates were reducing, the rates among Māori and Pacific peoples were increasing.

The inquiry outlined measures "to remove tobacco from our country's future in order to preserve Māori culture for younger generations". It was because of this inquiry the Smokefree Aotearoa New Zealand 2025 goal was set.

In March, the Government enforced plain packaging for cigarettes being sold in New Zealand in an effort to reduce the sale of cigarettes. 

Plain packaging has been proven overseas to be a step in the right direction, "but again, it's not doing anything to target the tobacco industry, and we should be going after them," says Mr Harawira. 

The Ministry of Health's action to impose plain packaging was applaued by Action for Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 (ASH) programme manager Boyd Broughton. But he said there is still a lot of work to be done if the Government hopes to meet its smoke-free target by 2025. 

The Government also appears to be considering vaping as a way to meet its smoke-free target. It follows a New Zealand Initiative report which argues that turning to less harmful methods is a good way to stub out the habit - much better than going cold turkey.

Data has shown the risks of second-hand vapour are small because of low levels of toxicants compared to smoking. There's also evidence vapour doesn't kill as many cells as cigarette smoke, the Ministry of Health said.

But Mr Harawira maintains the Government should be targeting tobacco companies if it really hopes to curb cigarette smoking in New Zealand. 

He said it's time for the Government to increase cessation funding to 25 percent. 

How hard would it be to kick tobacco giants out of New Zealand?

"It's dead easy. All it takes is political will. All it takes is the balls for somebody in the Government to pass legislation to get these pricks out of here. But they're not doing that," he said.