Very good piece by Anthony Hubbard in the Sunday Star Times:
The Maori Party is pressuring the government to take tough new anti-smoking measures including a hefty price rise and a ban on retail displays and is calling for a select committee inquiry to “bring these bastards from the tobacco companies out in the open”.
Smoking is a key issue for Turia’s party, as it is linked to a third of all Maori deaths. Maori smoking rates are among the highest in the world, and are twice as high as Pakeha rates. About 45% of Maori aged 15-64 smoke (154,000 people) and between 650 to 1000 Maori die as a result every year. In total, 690,300 Kiwis aged 15-64 smoke.
Great to see the Maori Party taking on a substantive issue which could bring great health benefits to Maori and to other New Zealanders. Sadly however, decisions on issues like this are not made rationally, they are political decisions.
The issue is shaping up into a serious political stoush sources say Turia has become so frustrated with Health Minister Tony Ryall that she has gone over his head to Prime Minister John Key. Turia, Ryall and Key declined to comment last week but a spokesperson for Turia confirmed she was “in talks with other ministers about a number of tobacco issues”.
Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia is leading the push for change, and although she is up against National’s deep aversion to moves that could be seen as “nanny state”, her party holds an important trump card – its status as a key coalition partner.
I think Hubbard overestimates the value of that “trump”. Recent history has shown us that National is only too happy to sideline the Maori Party. My guess is that National will be too spooked to do the right thing here. They have already risked significant public backlash over the “smacking” referendum response, and are involved in several other nannyish initiatives (such as the ban on cell phones for drivers, and planned revisions to alcohol limits). I can see Key concluding that taking on smoking as well could be a nanny too far.
So this is a call for Key and National to be bold on this issue. You have the luxury of a responsible opposition that doesn’t try and score cheap political points out of populist ranting (iwi / kiwi, “nanny state”). You have the luxury of enduringly high poll ratings. You thus have a real opportunity to take on this significant issue and make a real difference to the health of New Zealand. Please use it.