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Does the coalition government’s smoking stance really have anything to do with being anti-Māori?

In brief
  • National’s decision to not adopt Labour’s policy changes reflect a preference for personal choice over a “nanny state.”
  • Not surprisingly, those with a contrary view are critical, but is the extreme rhetoric about anti-Māori warranted?
  • Considering the late timing and future effective date of Labour’s smoking regs, how serious were they even about it? 
  • Should Te Pāti Māori advocate for separate smoking rules  for Māori? 

Is the new coalition government anti-Māori or just anti-prohibition?

National’s swift dismantling of Labour’s world first smoking prohibition, for anyone born after a certain date, reflects a difference between the current and prior administration. It illustrates a belief in empowering citizens with greater personal choice, rather than fostering a ‘nanny state, whose pronouncements are often ignored.

Smoking and Anti-Māori Prohibition
The rise of vaping has not only coincided with but also contributed to the overall decline in cigarette smoking, suggesting that the strict prohibitionist policies of the previous government may be unnecessary.

Yet, the current stance against prohibitionism and governmental interference in individual choices is construed as deeply anti-Māori by critics like Te Pāti Māori (TPM). Co-leader Deborah Ngawera-Packer went so far as to brand this rollback “systemic genocide”. Fortunately for TPM, mainstream media has been amenable to this messaging as TPM attempt to punch above their weight(roughly 3% of the party vote). 

Internationally the media has labelled the new NZ government in line with the particular media’s own leanings. CNN has labelled the new government as anti-Māori, citing one side of the argument to dissolve the country’s Māori Health Authority, roll back the use of te reo Māori, and repeal the country’s proposed limits on tobacco sales. 

There is also encouraging press from both domestic and international sources. Not to mention the latest Roy Morgan poll suggests support is increasing for the coalition government while dropping for the Labour/Greens/Māori coalition. 

Is less government really a bad thing?

Let’s zoom in on the repeal of Labour’s smoking regulations. Valid counter-arguments suggest that the case for the “world’s toughest anti-smoking laws,” may not be as robust as those claiming to represent Māori and public health would suggest. 

Nanny-statists employ data and statistics illustrating Māori overrepresentation in tobacco-related issues to justify one-size-fits-all policies. What about some of prohibitionism’s downsides, for instance the inevitable black market and its associated violence? 

 Additionally, Māori and marginalised communities face a disproportionate impact due to the potential closure of dairies, resulting from dwindling profits. 

Furthermore, the previous government’s regulations were criticised for lacking the necessary resources to assist people in quitting tobacco for good.

Doubts about feasibility and sincerity

The revoked regulations were seen by some as discriminatory based on age and in violation of  New Zealand’s Bill of Rights. 

Some argue that Labour’s crackdown on smoking was more about optics than effectiveness. The previous Labour government passed its anti-smoking laws just before the election and they were set to take effect no sooner than 2025.

There are also potentially more effective solutions to address smoking addiction, such as education, which has arguably been helping, given the steady downward slide in NZ smokers. The rate of daily smokers in New Zealand has decreased by nearly 60% over approximately a decade, bringing it down to just under 7% of the population in 2022/23. 

The arguments against the lifetime ban, based on when you were born, are not receiving much media coverage, leading to more suspicions of media partisanship.

“By Māori for Māori” approach to smoking?

Perhaps this is an issue, which Te Pāti Māori could campaign on, as a “by Māori, for Māori” approach where prohibitions on smoking apply only to Māori. 

We admit it would be difficult to enforce for all the reasons stated here. On the flipside, it would cost very little for a separate law for Māori. 

But we somehow doubt they would ask for that. 

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