Fri 28 Jul 2017

Marewa Glover

New Zealand must put a moratorium on punitive taxes on tobacco and embrace vaporiser technology which poses the first real threat to tobacco smoking.

In a far reaching address at WITT on Wednesday, Marewa Glover said Maori smoking rates had not declined at a rate to justify the punitive costs added each year to tobacco and the increased costs were causing wide social damage, most of it in lower socio-economic areas.

“I lobbied for tax increases, I was told it was the most effective strategy to reduce smoking, but  there has been no drop for Māori or Pacific over the last nine years. Now I have to conclude it is not working,’’ she said.

Associate Professor Glover, based at the School of Public Health, Massey University, has worked on reducing smoking for almost a quarter of a century.

She called the current quit-or-die approach to smoking shame inducing, punitive and judgemental and said the fact 38% of Maori still smoked showed the campaigns had failed.

“We attack their personal sense of wellbeing – they already get attacked for being Maori, for being a solo mum. Are we really helping?”

Pointing to cartoons and statements published in the press she said the “victim blaming” – including a suggestion by a Palmerston North city councillor that Maori women be sterilised to stop them smoking in front of their children – was disgraceful.

She called for a compassionate and ethical approach to achieving a smokefree 2025.

“The message now is that if you smoke you won’t get a job in certain areas – most recently the Defence Force. So Maori can’t get a job in the Defence Force? Many landlords won't rent to smokers. Some councils have banned smoking in their accommodation and anti-smoking lobbyists want that extended to the whole property which would force tenants out to the footpath to smoke. It's discrimination but smokers have no protection under the Human Rights Act.”

 For some the legislation had provided people with a proxy way “of discriminating against the people they want to discriminate against’’.

There had also been a marked rise in crime involving stealing tobacco.

At the same time the opportunities presented by “harm reduced” technologies were being shunned, despite huge advances being made. Vaping in public places has just been banned in Whanganui.

“If a pregnant mother won’t stop smoking, isn’t it better if she vapes instead?” Marewa Glover asked.

Yet some stop-smoking services refused to tell people about e-cigarettes, ignoring their rights. Other health professionals ridiculed people for switching to vaping.

Marewa Glover said the priority was to reduce the inequity between Maori and Pacific smoking rates and the rates of smokers in other cultures, starting with a moratorium on the tax hikes for tobacco and a move to provide guidance for smokers to switch to safer alternatives to smoking.

It was time to reorient funding from “national top-down paternalistic and shame-inducing services” to community interventions which sought to reduce the drivers, such as stress, to smoke.

“Give e-cigarettes a chance – give whanau a chance,’’ she said.

Marewa Glover was speaking at the first in the WITT Public Research Seminar Series Ngā Ara Rangahau, organised by Dr Lily George.