Smokefree 2025 or smokescreen?

By Tumamao Harawira

A decade has passed since New Zealand adopted the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal but is the goal attainable?

Smokefree advocate, Hone Harawira says the funding models to reach that goal are inequitable and leave Māori behind the rest of the country

"We want our people to get to that place of being smoke-free." 

The Smokefree 2025 campaign aims to have less than 5% of the population smoking tobacco by 2025.

In 2021, Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall launched Auahi Kore Aotearoa Mahere Rautaki 2025, the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan at an event in Parliament. “This is a historic day for the health of our people,” she said then.

Current figures put the total population who smoke at 9.4%, but Māori rates are above 20%, totalling almost 200,000 Māori. According to smoking statistics in New Zealand, there are 387,000 people who smoke daily. Of those, 22.3% are Māori, some 90,000 being Māori women. But one million people have quit smoking.

Harawira says more money needs to be invested in the right areas. "Funding needs to be given to groups that work with Māori and Pacifika, particularly Māori women."

In 2010, while a member of Parliament for Te Taitokerau, Harawira was adamant that to get to a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, there had to be significant changes to how the country dealt with smoking.

But he says there is a feeling that momentum is slowing, although he can see the government is trying. "The government was very proactive then. But as time has gone on, momentum has faded."

Henare responds

The Smokefree Environments & Regulated Products Act was passed two years ago. It aimed to make less harmful products available for smokers, and smoking rates have decreased. 

Today Associate Health Minister Peeni Henare tells teaomā that, despite a decline in people smoking cigarettes, there is still work to do to stop it in Māori communities.

"We've seen our efforts decline in recent years. But the Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall is someone who wants to bring our attention back to this issue," Henare says.

 Along with Hone Harawira, hauora Māori expert Rebecca Ruwhiu-Colins and behavioural scientist Dr Marewa Glover are also advocates for the kaupapa, two wāhine that Henare commends.

"I commend the strong women and Hāpai Te Hauora. They're the people putting in the work but we need more people in our communities supporting this issue to benefit us all."

Asked if the 2025 target year to be Smokefree in Aotearoa will be missed, Henare says, "We'll work towards that because this is what Māori families want. We know people whose lives have been impacted by cigarettes, so what we want is to achieve this goal."