Researcher says banning smoking in cars discriminatory to Māori

A tobacco control researcher says there is "no evidence" smoking in cars is linked to disease and labelled proposed legislation to ban smoking in cars with children "discriminatory".

On Wednesday, the Health Select Committee will hear submissions on the Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carry Children) Amendment Bill.

The Bill proposes banning smoking in vehicles carrying anyone under the age of 18 years old in an attempt to protect children from the harm associated with secondhand smoke. Vehicles parked on the road being used as a dwelling would be exempt from the ban.

Announcing the legislation in February, Associate Minister of Health Jenny Salesa said it was important to safeguarding the health of children, with Māori and Pacific kids most vulnerable to secondhand smoke in vehicles. 

"Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke due to their smaller lungs, higher respiratory rate and immature immune systems," she said.

Jenny Salesa.
Jenny Salesa. Photo credit: Newshub Nation.

However, tobacco control researcher Dr Marewa Glover, who intends to submit to the committee, believes the Bill is "discriminatory" and "will negatively impact the poor and Māori the most".

Dr Glover said Māori mothers are at the greatest risk of being fined under the legislation due to their disproportionately high smoking rate. She says 37 percent of Māori women smoke compared to only 12 percent of Pakeha women or 3 percent of Asian women.

"Māori are also over-represented among the most vulnerable families who have not been effectively reached by mainstream anti-smoking campaigns," she said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

"The inequity that exists between Māori and Pākehā is in part created and is maintained by discriminatory laws and Government policies – this is one of those laws."

Speaking to The AM Show on Wednesday, Dr Glover said instead of focusing on spending money stopping a small number of people smoking in their cars, money should be spent on programmes to stop parents smoking in the first place.

"It is a good thing that people don't smoke in cars with kids, but banning it isn't going to stop the small number of people who still do that," she said.

"It is the opportunity cost is what I am concerned about. If they spend all the money on this... they are not going to spend that on interventions that will work."

Researcher says banning smoking in cars discriminatory to Māori
Photo credit: The AM Show.

Is smoking in cars linked to disease?

Dr Glover said legislators are working on the assumption that banning smoking in cars is going to "have some impact on the children's health".

"It isn't... there is no evidence that smoking in cars is linked to disease. It is smoking in the home."

The AM Show host Duncan Garner was dumbfounded by that.

"Secondhand smoke has been a campaign for sometime around New Zealand. Are you saying secondhand smoke has no impact at all, that all the health researchers, that all the doctors got it wrong?" Garner asked.

"No, they didn't get it wrong. We exaggerated on purpose to scare people off smoking and what I want now is the truth because we are going too far," Dr Glover replied.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that secondhand smoke contained "more than 7000 chemicals", hundreds of which are toxic and about 70 of which can cause cancer.

Citing a report from the US Department of Health and Human Services, which says no amount of smoke is healthy, the CDC says parents can protect their children by not allowing smoke in cars, even with the windows down.

A 2016 report from Massey University and Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand found secondhand smoke can "cause illness and premature death". It said in 2010, an estimated 104 people died due to second-hand smoke exposure in New Zealand.

The report said "children's health can be improved by ensuring they have smokefree homes and cars".

Vaping would also be prohibited in cars with children, something Dr Glover also believes is wrong as it takes away an alternative to smoking. 

She suggests that more incentives to quit are introduced and praised a programme by the Northland District Health Board which worked to make sure all cars with car seats were smokefree.

"There is strong scientific evidence that the smokefree homes and cars campaigns have worked - only a small minority of society still smoke in their car and very few would do so when young children are present. Times have changed," she said in her statement.

Researcher says banning smoking in cars discriminatory to Māori
Photo credit: File.

Campaigns from 'white middle-class women'

Dr Glover believes current campaigns to stop Māori women smoking are not working as the messages are not designed for their demographic.

"Most of the people working in health promotion in New Zealand are white middle-class women. They are not the best messages, they are not getting through, they are not effective at reaching these mums," she told The AM Show.

In a report released in July, the Waitangi Tribunal found the Crown was breaching the Treaty of Waitangi by failing to provide adequate healthcare to Māori.

Associate Minister Salesa said in February that the legislation would be backed up by a public-education effort.

"Ultimately, the focus of this change will be on education and changing social norms - not on issuing infringement notices," she said.


Dr Glover's opposition to the law change has shocked Titoki Black, the former Kōhanga Trust chief executive, who said she couldn't wrap her head around it.

"To hear someone with the calibre of Dr Marewa Glover condemning a law change around smoking in cars just shocks me," she told Newshub.

"It is just shocking. I just can't believe that we would use a Māori card as an excuse to not have the policy. I just can't get my head around it."

She was also surprised by the comment that there was no evidence that smoking in cars was linked to disease, saying that not only was secondhand smoke poor for health, but the lingering smell normalises tobacco use. 

"It is not good for the children because they will think it is just a normal smell and get used to it and think it should be around them all the time."

Black believes it is time mothers stepped up and got the message that smoking isn't healthy. She says with the right message - regardless of who is delivering it - that can be achieved.

"We should be promoting no smoking full stop and in cars should be the ultimate ban of all bans," she said.

"I don't think it's what colour you are, I just think it's your approach, how you handle the message."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said the health benefits of banning smoking in cars was "unarguable".

"I think the starting point must be what is best for our children. The health benefits are unarguable. We know that up to 100,000 New Zealand kids are exposed to secondhand smoke each week," he told The AM Show.

"If we want to bring about a health change for our New Zealand children. This is the way to do it."

He said it was a positive move for Māori children, but understood there was often a concern about new laws taking an "overly overt heavy criminal approach" with fines.

But Becroft doesn't believe that will be the case with this legislation.

"It will need good education. What the law does is put a line in the sand, if you cross that there are consequences. No one is expecting infringement notices to rain out of the sky."

Police officers can provide warnings to individuals found to have been smoking in a car with a child.