Hone Harawira calls for 'death tax' on Big Tobacco, vaping wiped out as well as cigarettes

Hone Harawira wants not just cigarettes but vaping also gone from Aotearoa by 2025, saying they're Big Tobacco's version of the alcohol industry's 'alcopops' - a way to get kids hooked on a harmful product. 

He also wants to "sue the bastards" who've been profiting off the addiction, which kills about 5000 Kiwis a year, according to the Ministry of Health. 

The former MP turned anti-smoking campaigner was on the committee which helped the Government put together its renewed Smokefree 2025 policy, released Thursday morning

Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said future generations will be banned from buying tobacco altogether, and tobacco that can be sold will be limited to low-nicotine products only. The number of outlets that can sell them will also be reduced. 

Harawira, appearing on The AM Show prior to Dr Verrall's announcement, said reducing the number of outlets would help cut crime.

"You've got small dairies and garages for example, that get robbed. Those are the ones you want to say, 'Look… we're gonna shut [you] down - you've got until then to restock with other product, then we're gonna shut you down.' 

"People don't rob the big guys like Countdown and Pak'nSave and places like that. So you do the little ones first, then the bigger ones later.

"At the same time, you have to bring in tobacco and vaping product sales venues. It's an addiction, eh? 

"It's not something you can just take away. It's an addiction and people need to be helped to get through." 

Māori and Pasifika still smoke at much greater rates than other ethnicities. The overall adult smoking rate is 11.6 percent, down from 18 percent 15 years ago; for Māori, it's 28.7 percent and Pasifika 18.3 percent. 

"A bit like COVID, a bit like health issues, a bit like everything else Māori and Pasifika, we always end up getting the wrong end of the stick and end up carrying the can," said Harawira, calling for the new campaign to focus on those communities. Dr Verrall's announcement noted funding in Budget 2021 for targeted help for Pasifika communities, and the formation of a new Māori Advisory Taskforce headed by Dame Tariana Turia to help keep the Government on track. 

While regular excise taxes have helped fund anti-smoking initiatives, Harawira said the industry itself should foot the bill, not consumers, via a "death tax". 

"I'd sue every big tobacco company, make them pay $1 million for everyone who dies from tobacco and vaping-related illnesses - 50 percent to the whānau, 50 percent to the campaign to stop this. We'd be fully funded for this campaign just off that in the first year… the second thing is I'd sue every one of those bastards as well." 

Hone Harawira on The AM Show.
Hone Harawira on The AM Show. Photo credit: The AM Show

The Ministry of Health has backed vaping as an alternative to smoking, saying while "not completely harmless", they are likely "much less harmful than smoking tobacco". 

But recent studies have found teenagers who take up vaping are more likely to move on to smoking, and vaping itself has been linked to various adverse health outcomes

"[They were] formerly known as e-cigarettes and that's exactly what they are," said Harawira. "They will cause cancer problems, lung problems, heart problems - all of the same problems that tobacco causes are caused through e-cigarettes as well. 

"It's not a solution and I think the Ministry of Health needs to own up to having made a mistake on this and put vaping alongside tobacco so by the time we get to 2025, that's gone as well. Vaping products are now owned 80 percent by big tobacco. 

"Big tobacco can see they're losing this war, so they're trying to move onto the next planet." 

Harawira, 66, said he quit smoking three decades ago after losing an uncle to the addiction. 

"I was so bloody angry with him. The day he died I walked around kicking things over and swearing and yelling and crying and just being angry with him. 

"By the end of the day, I was still so angry that as I started to calm down I realised I hadn't had a cigarette… I stopped smoking that day."