Titoki Black, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft blast claim car smoking ban discriminatory

The suggestion a ban on smoking in cars with children would discriminate against Māori is being blasted by a prominent Māori figure and the Children's Commissioner.

Tobacco control researcher Dr Marewa Glover says the Government's proposed ban on smoking in vehicles carrying anyone under the age of 18 would "negatively impact the poor and Māori the most".

She says 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."

Duncan Garner and Dr Marewa Glover.
Duncan Garner and Dr Marewa Glover. Photo credit: The AM Show.

However, that suggestion has been criticised by the former Kōhanga Trust chief executive, Titoki Black, who told Newshub she was surprised Dr Glover didn't recognise the benefits of the law change.

"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."

Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft told The AM Show on Wednesday that he saw the proposed law change as likely to have a positive impact on the lives of Māori with great health benefits.

"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 said.

Health benefits of the ban

Black and Becroft disagreed with the claim by Dr Glover on The AM Show that "there is no evidence that smoking in cars is linked to disease". Glover also said that while there was a health impact of secondhand smoke, it had been "exaggerated".

Multiple studies and reports, including by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Massey University, note secondhand smoke contains hundreds of dangerous chemicals and that smoking should not be allowed in cars - even with windows down.

Titoki said not only was the secondhand smoke poor for a child's 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."

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

Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa says the legislation would safeguard the health of children, particularly the 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.

Titoki Black, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft blast claim car smoking ban discriminatory
Photo credit: Tuhoe / Screenshot / Getty / The AM Show.

Punitive nature of the Bill

Dr Glover is worried about the punitive nature of the legislation and questions the consequences if someone can't pay the proposed fine.

"I don't agree that we should be punishing people who smoke, I think we should be extending support," she told The AM Show.

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. Dr Glover was also frustrated that the ban also included smoking alternatives like vaping.

However, Becroft believes a $50 fine would be adequate in getting the message across and hopes that eventually the ban will become policed by family and friends. He said the attitude towards smoking was changing and children were already identifying the harm associated with it and pointing it out.

Police officers will also be able to provide warnings to individuals found to have been smoking in a car with a child. 

"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," Becroft said.

Submissions on the Smoke-free Environments (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carry Children) Amendment Bill will be heard on Wednesday. Vehicles parked on the road being used as a dwelling would be exempt from the ban.