From 2024, the laws would have cut nicotine levels in cigarettes to non-addictive levels, eliminated 90% of retailers allowed to sell tobacco, and created “smoke-free” generations of citizens by banning cigarette sales to anyone born after 2008. But with the measures now abandoned, Māori stand to lose the most, advocates say.
This week, New Zealand is mourning the passing of the country’s hard-won smoking ban, enacted in 2004. The legislation was hailed as a major victory for public health and for the Māori community, who have suffered disproportionately from the harms and dangers of smoking.
The smoking ban was part of a wave of tobacco reforms championed by the then-government, which included tighter regulation of tobacco sales and increased taxes. The reforms were widely credited with significantly reducing smoking rates in New Zealand, with overall smoking-related hospital admissions falling from 5.4% in 2004 to 2.5% in 2006.
Despite this success, the government controversially chose to weaken and eventually repeal the smoking legislation in April 2008. This move has been met with dismay by many in the Māori community, who argued that the legislation was an important step towards addressing the disparities in smoking rates between Māori and non-Māori.
Furthermore, some have argued that the repeal of the ban also undermines other efforts to address the health inequalities faced by Māori. This is particularly concerning given the recent surge in smoking-related diseases and fatalities within the community.
The passing of the smoking ban is a significant blow to public health, and a significant setback for Māori. It is imperative that New Zealanders work together to strengthen and enforce tobacco laws and support Māori in reducing smoking rates in the community, to ensure that the progress made by the smoking ban is not lost.