Come on, Hone – show just a twinge of concern for all those non-Maori deaths from tobacco-related diseases

Dunno if the newspapers are mentioning it today, but Alf was among the great majority of MPs who voted to raise the tax on tobacco.

He did this because he believes making tobacco more expensive is an effective way of discouraging its use and reducing the huge death toll from tobacco-related illnesses.

He is a caring bloke, your Alf, keen to reduce rates of preventable disease among all New Zealanders.

All New Zealanders, he emphasises. Not just some.

Alf was dismayed to read a media statement from Hone Harawira, apparently spelling out the Maori Party’s position.

The Maori Party says it is their love for their people that has motivated them to push for a major increase in tobacco prices, announced in the House today.

“It is the aroha that we have for our people that has inspired us to push for any and all moves that will reduce smoking,” Maori Party MP Hone Harawira said.

“About 600 graves a year are dug too early for Maori people because of smoking, so today is about saving lives.”

Get that?

Harawira – like Alf – is keen to save lives.

But his life-saving zeal is blinkered. He wants to save Maori lives.

His statement implies that he couldn’t give a toss for the 4400 other graves that are dug each year for victims of the tobacco habit.

He went on –

Mr Harawira said today’s increase did not lessen his attack on tobacco companies, that he still wants to see them “strung up.”

“In the long term, this will be an attack on tobacco companies because they will have less consumers, and less of our people to kill.

Again he is concerned only that the tobacco companies stop killing fewer of his people.

They can knock off the rest of us, presumably.

The Maori Party – you can be sure – is aware of the much greater annual death toll than the 600 graves mentioned by Harawira.

Alf knows this is so, because Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia used the much bigger figure when moving that the Excise and Excise-Equivalent Duties Table (Tobacco Products) Amendment Bill be read a first time.

Fair to say, she was expressing concerns about improving the health of all New Zealanders.

She did it very well, too.

Mr Speaker, there are only a few matters before this House that one could stand, with hand on heart, and declare this was a life and death debate.

The rationale for raising the tobacco excise is very much in this arena. It is, purely and simply, about saving lives.

Speaking as Associate Minister of Health, Turia said she was worried greatly that about 21 percent of all New Zealanders over the age of fifteen years old are smokers. Many are younger.

In basic terms, one in five New Zealanders are regular smokers.

It is irresponsible to dismiss this as a recreational past-time; to minimise the impact of harm caused by justifying tobacco use as a private pleasure that one should be free to indulge on in the privacy of one’s home and not acknowledge the addictive nature of this tobacco use.

Exposure to smoking in the home and tobacco use itself, results in a staggering figure of around 5000 deaths a year.

Tobacco use was the single largest cause of preventable death and chronic illness in this country, Turia pointed out.

Years had elapsed while politicians debated minor changes to tobacco legislation, and –

In all that time, the death toll has kept on rising – New Zealanders dying prematurely from smoking related illnesses that show no mercy.

We can not stand by, oblivious to the pain that strikes too many families. Early deaths which are completely preventable.

The science tells us that on an average, a smoker loses fifteen years of life.

And it is no news to anyone in this House that tobacco is the leading cause of the life expectancy gap between Maori and non-Maori.

In the context of this speech, Turia was perfectly entitled to refer to Maori-specific statistics.

The disproportionate impacts of heavy use of tobacco on Maori are etched into the lives many whanau.

During the period 2000 to 2004, lung cancer was responsible for over 31 percent of Maori cancer deaths.

During this same period cardiovascular disease – including heart disease and stroke – resulted in Maori death rates which were two times higher than those for non-Maori.

And deaths due to respiratory disease were three times more frequent in Maori than non-Maori.

It is impossible, in that context, to come to this debate restricted to views about the nature of the product per se.

She then extended the sweep of her concerns –

Day on day, approximately thirteen New Zealanders die from smoking. They die from lung cancer, from heart disease, from stroke; from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, from emphysema, from chronic bronchitis, from cancer of the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus.

They are dying from a habit that we can do something about.

So today we are taking this action to save lives.

Turia referred to independent research studies which had established the impact of price rises on smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption.

Raising the price of tobacco probably is the most powerful tool to reduce smoking.

It’s very simple. All smokers who buy tobacco will face the price rises. The more someone smokes, the more they pay, and the bigger the incentive for them to quit.

This was a compelling speech.

It’s a pity Harawira let the Maori Party side down by weeping and wailing only for those who finish up in Maori graves.

It’s almost as if he champions smoking among non-Maori as a fiendish strategy to reduce their numbers.

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