10 years ago I took an idea to Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples which led directly to the 2010 Māori Affairs Select Committee report on the Impact of Tobacco use on Maori. That report made 42 recommendations including one to set a national goal of going smokefree by 2025.
Today it is clear that without major government intervention, we are going to miss that goal big time, and the facts make for ugly reading.
Since that MASC report was tabled, tobacco taxes have doubled to nearly $2 billion a year.
We know that the direct health cost is about $500 million (based on a University of Otago study which said the direct health cost of smoking was $300-350 million in 2007), which leaves nearly $1.5 billion a year to help fight the tobacco scourge.
Sadly however, funding for reduction and cessation programmes remains at a measly bloody 3% or $60 million a year. That includes funding specifically to help those groups suffering most from smoking – Māori (Māori women in particular), Pasifika and youth – which has been cut back and mainstreamed so it is now difficult to identify. And the spend on mass media campaigns which helped people quit, and deterred young people from starting to smoke has been cut over the past 8 years as well.
The only thing government has done consistently well over time is to hit smokers every year with a tax increase, instead of hitting the industry harder.
We need a game changer, and we need people to lead that change in the house.
As it happens, two of my colleagues from that MASC, Kelvin Davis and Simon Bridges, are now major players in parliament – Kelvin is the deputy Prime Minister and Simon is the Leader of the Opposition. They sat through all the hearings. They helped shaped the report to parliament. And they need to step up now.
They need to direct the MASC to revisit the 2010 recommendations and come up with a plan to get the 2025 goal back on track.
That plan should have a simple message “spend tobacco tax on tobacco control”. It should lift funding for reduction and cessation programmes from 3% to 10%. It should ringfence another 10% of tobacco taxes for specialist initiatives aimed at Māori (Māori women especially), Pasifika and youth. And it should include a 5% spend on mass media campaigns across all platforms.
And the plan should also have another focus – going after Big Tobacco – including legislation to stop tobacco companies from manipulating prices to keep their brands alive; to
progressively reduce nicotine and flavouring to help smokers give up; to cut back on the places where you can buy cigarettes; and to bill Big Tobacco directly for the health bill we face every year from smoking related illnesses.
I suspect we’d all love to have our mokopuna grow up in a smokefree Aotearoa. Hopefully those in the big house feel the same way too.