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Where there’s smokes, there’s … hysteria

To this recidivist nicotine addict, the furore about the new coalition government stubbing out some of the previous pack’s anti-smoking initiatives is more than a little puzzling.

Yes, smoking does create a dreadful drag on the health of a significant minority of our population [9.4 per cent to be precise, or around 500,000], contributing to an estimated 5000 New Zealanders croaking each year [that’s 13 unlucky Kiwis a day].

And yes, a significant proportion of smokers in this country do come from significant minorities – 19.9 per cent of Māori [around 180,000] and 18.2 per cent of Pasifika people [just shy of 70k]. That’s decidedly not good, although whether that therefore means Te Pāti Māori’s co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer’s claim that rolling back some anti-smoking restrictions is an “absolute deliberate intention of this government … to create systemic genocide” is credible is another matter altogether.

The binned restrictions that were due to be phased in included lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes, limiting the number of retail outlets allowed to sell the poisonous product to 600 nationwide, and banning anyone born after 2009 from buying them.

While allowing for the strong possibility that stories detailing this have been lost in the daily information deluge, there doesn’t seem to have been as much criticism about the decision to ditch the restriction on the number of outlets able to sell tobacco products. Perhaps that’s because most people recognise – even if the previous government apparently wasn’t able to – that doing so would almost certainly have the unintended consequence of creating a major health and safety risk for anyone working at or in the vicinity of such stores. Because there’s no question the rapidly ratcheting up price of cigarettes did make them targets for criminals and fuelled the rise in [often violent] dairy robberies.

And just because the lobby group that campaigned against that measure on the basis it would make many dairies economically unviable was probably an ‘astroturf’ [as opposed to grassroots] group funded by tobacco companies doesn’t mean this was an invalid point.

It’s also not clear what lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes was meant to achieve, other than forcing users to buy even more packs of increasingly incredibly expensive smokes in order to temporarily assuage their addiction.

As for the idea of creating a “Smokefree generation” by outlawing those born after 2009 from purchasing them, how exactly was that going to be enforced again – and by whom?

Ultimately, like some of the previous government’s other policies, these new, now no-more restrictions were always about “the vibe of the thing”, to quote Dennis Dentuo, rather than realistic outcomes.

It’s also worth noting that, although criticism of the new government’s small Smokefree policy bonfire has focused on what’s gone up in smoke, a bunch of anti-smoking initiatives that have reduced the number of smokers from more than 25 per cent in 1984 remain in place and continue to make a dent.

Personally, though, as someone who is always only ever going to be a ‘recovering smoker’ at best, I don’t understand why cigarettes aren’t just banned altogether.

They’re designed to hook you, provide absolutely no benefit [that sense of wellbeing after taking a drag is just withdrawal abating] and cause plenty of harm – something the companies that produce them spent decades lying about.

And surely the idea of a black market in the event of prohibition is risible – because if there’s any way of preventing everyone within 50 feet of you from sniffing out you’ve just had a sneaky ciggie, I’ve yet to discover it.


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