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A new government – going up in smoke?

Well, our new government has 49 new things to do in 100 days. I have quite a few more than that myself, and some are a lot more important than what the government is planning, like doing my lawns and fixing my boat. 
 |  Ross Liggins  |  , ,

I mean how important is it to re-arrange all those departmental Maori names? I enjoy them myself. I can actually learn some Maori words from them like “kotahi” or “waka” and get an idea of how the language expresses ideas. But I guess that doesn’t hit the spot for a lot of our coalition politicians. Not as drastic, but a bit like the old rule of no Maori to be spoken at school – limit the language, limit the culture.

One of me and my partner’s more than 49 things to do was to go to Central Otago for a holiday with my sister and her husband. My sister helped develop the anti-smoking legislation passed by the last government and about to be repealed by the new lot. This legislation was ground-breaking and already being adopted by other countries including the UK, as part of their policy towards zero smoking. The new health minister Dr Shane Reti, who was National’s health spokesperson when the legislation was passed last year, supported the heavy-lifter of the policy – to reduce the amount of nicotine in tobacco products.

Imagine my sister’s frustration on hearing of Dr Reti’s u-turn and the ditching of this well-conceived legislation. The UK Daily Mirror’s headline was “NZ u turn on smoking ban leaves health experts appalled and disgusted,” while a Time Magazine article stated that it is estimated that the legislative bans in place would “save thousands of lives annually and many millions of dollars in health costs over the next 20 years.” The Health Coalition Aotearoa labelled it, “a major loss for public health and a huge win for the tobacco industry whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives.” Letters to the editor of publications all over NZ also condemned the new government’s cynical policy of tax grabbing to fill the yawning gap in their tax revenue caused by the scrapping of the foreign property buyers’ tax. According to this government, thousands of deaths from smoking related illnesses must be worth the tax cuts for landlords and others, and if one were really cynical, one might also think that a lot more premature deaths would also save on pension payouts further down the line. Could politicians be that callous? One would hope not, but it certainly looks like a short-term policy with long-term terminal results. 

What’s more, the government started using non-evidence based, scare tactics like, the old legislation would lead to serial ram raids on outlets, especially in places like Northland where it said there was only one dairy allowed to sell cigarettes, until a fact check revealed there are actually 35. Oops, a bit of early egg on the face for the PM. And anyway, the coalition policy is to come down hard on crime so surely, they’d be able to deal with a few teenagers trying to steal ciggies.

Interestingly, the government is determined to lower smoking rates by pushing vaping as a less damaging substitute for tobacco. Oh, how the tobacco companies are laughing all the way to the bank with their aggressive marketing of tasty vapes, so that now, people who have never smoked are now vaping. Ask the principals, teachers and parents of young school-aged vapers how they feel about vaping and you will find that many are united against this addictive habit. While vapes have no doubt helped some give up cigarettes, a lot of smokers now indulge in both. Some disposable vapes contain high levels of nicotine and all kinds of chemicals. Do we really want our youngies sucking on this rubbish?

So, to summarise, National and company are repealing this legislation so they can get more tax revenue, and at the same time are saying they want to decrease the number of smokers and therefore decrease their tax take. Where is the business logic in that? In fact, the government has no incentive to reduce smoking and every financial incentive to increase it. Wouldn’t a wealth tax be a far better idea? Yeah right!

And what of the long term social and medical costs taxpayers will be burdened with? Surely, they will greatly exceed the tax take from this proposed shameful policy. Hopefully by that time this government will have been consigned to history. But being a person with great faith in the innate goodness of most humans, I am confident that Chris Luxon, Nicola Willis, David Seymour and old Winnie (does he smoke?) will eventually see the error of their ways.

Anyway, despite my sister’s despondency, we enjoyed our South Island sojourn, trout fishing intermingled with a little wine tasting. However, I was shocked to see those gigantic linear irrigators that together with large quantities of fertiliser are being used to turn spectacular desert land into pasture, at the expense of our waterways, all for the sake of more beef and dairy cows. I thought we were trying and reduce that in the name of reaching our emissions targets, but that’s another story.