Wairarapa quit coaches with regional health provider Whaiora are determined “to keep going” in their work to help the region’s smokers break the habit in the face of the government’s announcement it intends to repeal new world-leading smokefree laws.
“As the smokers need determination and willpower [to quit smoking], it’s the same for us. We’ve just got to keep striving for success as well,” quit coach Luana Reiri said.
Amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products [Smoked Tobacco] Act came into force on 1 January 2023 and would have prevented the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009 – contributing to the creation of what’s been dubbed the ‘smokefree generation’.
Other measures included reducing the amount of nicotine in tobacco products and decreasing the number of cigarette retailers from about 6000 to 600.
The legislation was part of New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 action plan, launched in 2021.
Reiri and fellow quit coach Alfie Puhara were amongst a recent delegation of health practitioners and rangitahi [young people] from Wairarapa to the Beehive in support of the petition to stop the repeal organised by Maori regional health provider Hāpai te Hauora, which has attracted over 51,000 signatures to date.
“It was a great opportunity”, Reiri said. “I felt very privileged to be up there, representing Whaiora and our Wairarapa community.”
Lisa Te Morenga, co-chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa and professor of public and Māori health at Massey University, described the repeal as coming “out of the blue”, and “a sucker punch to the gut”.
Research by world-leading tobacco control and public health epidemiologists showed the smokefree interventions would accelerate New Zealand’s quit rates to “get us to a sort of almost smokefree New Zealand by 2025,” she said.
“Modelling suggests that we could save up to 8000 additional early deaths from putting in place this legislation, and this will be particularly beneficial for our Maori and Pacific communities.”
In addition to saving lives, the legislation would have contributed to easing the financial pressures that an addiction to tobacco causes, Te Morenga said.
This financial cost is something former smoker, Deborah Lodge-Schnellenburg, can attest to.
She has ‘been quit and stayed quit’ for over 320 days, and calculated, using a specialised app, she has saved over $7000 so far.
She credits Whaiora’s approach for her success, with weekly visits from a quit coach keeping her accountable, and giving her somebody to talk to if she was “in a bad place”.
Her concern is that without the smokefree legislation in place, pressures on the health system will mount.
“My biggest fear is that it will create additional stress on the health system. And the health system is barely coping now,” Lodge-Schnellenburg said. “Repealing the smokefree legislation means going back 20 years. The government just doesn’t see it.”
Whaiora will continue to provide the quit support service, but the removal of the regulations will “make our mahi much harder”, Reiri said.
But she isn’t ready to give up on achieving a smokefree Wairarapa just yet.
“It’ll only make us stronger, to work harder, to keep striving to succeed and help our tangata in our Wairarapa community to improve their health and well-being, to be good role models for our rangatahi and tamariki, and to be around longer,” she said.