Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)
Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)

The BulletinApril 16, 2021

The Bulletin: The complex politics of ending smoking

Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)
Ayesha Verrall, with Chris Hipkins in the background (Photo: Getty Images)

Good morning and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: The complex politics of ending smoking, security company with MIQ contract disputes government claim, and parliament votes to extend emergency Covid powers.

A range of proposals have been outlined by the government to effectively end smoking. Newshub reports it includes phasing the age of purchase up to a certain level over time, so that a generation of non-smokers is created. The type of cigarettes that could be sold too would include a reduction in nicotine, and the number of shops who could sell them dramatically reduced. While the Smokefree 2025 goal now seems basically out of reach, the government clearly wants to push ahead on it in more general terms.

There is a clear public health case to be made for the proposals, and reaction from those groups has been positive. Māori public health organisation Hāpai Te Hauora put a release on NZ Doctor, with advocate Shane Bradbrook saying “this plan provides some control over how this deadly product is finally pushed out of our people’s lives.” Tobacco is of course highly addictive, kills people in droves, and tobacco companies have profited enormously off that misery. In particular, their sales have become more heavily targeted at lower-income people, who end up additionally squeezed by high taxes – further hikes aren’t part of this proposal. The damage of tobacco features prominently in high death rates from lung cancer, for example. In short, tobacco companies are evil, and we should take everything they and their pet lobbyists say with a huge dose of scepticism and contempt.

And yet, there could be some unintended consequences of this that might cause harm as well. Dairy owners and their representatives are particularly concerned about loss of income, reports Stuff’s Debrin Foxcroft. If those shops were to close as a result, that would hardly be a good outcome, especially considering that much more concentrated businesses like supermarkets would be insulated. As One News’ Anna Whyte reports, there are also clear fears that these measures would fuel the black market. And as Radio NZ’s Meriana Johnsen reports, reducing nicotine levels could again just hit lower-income people harder.

What about vaping? There was a really interesting North and South cover story recently about this, which you’ll have to get a paper copy to read. But basically contributor Don Rowe found that while vaping is widely considered to be a less harmful alternative to smoking, a generation of teenagers have taken it up without ever smoking tobacco first. In the process, their brains and bodies are being hit with much more nicotine than even the heartiest smokers would have got. Given how little we know about the long-term effects of vaping (the products have only been in regular use for about a decade) that may be another public health crisis waiting to happen.

And not to put too many of my own biases on the table, but there’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason. That was the first question asked in a Newstalk ZB interview with associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, didn’t address the point head on, but who said the policy was about “starting a discussion about how to stop young people starting smoking”. That probably won’t allay any fears about government overreach into people’s personal lives. Verrall also suggested that simply raising the age of purchase is something being looked at. Incidentally, this interview pivots into a remarkable exchange about the testing register of border workers in the back half.

And on that story, the security company the infected guard worked for has come out strongly against the government’s accusation, reports Stuff. First Security said in a statement that the health ministry’s system “did not flag this guard as non-compliant until 26th March, at which time the follow up process began”. Government ministers are standing by the accusation that the worker lied. But on that point, I’d highly encourage you to read this opinion piece from Duncan Greive, about the weaknesses of systems that can be broken simply by one person not telling the truth – if in fact that allegation itself is correct.

Parliament voted yesterday to extend the powers the government holds under the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act. The speeches included a mention from Covid-19 minister Chris Hipkins that the powers overreached what would normally be acceptable in a democracy. National voted against, with spokesperson Chris Bishop saying “generally we are happy with how the minister has exercised his powers under the act,” but that he hoped a “more narrow” piece of legislation could be passed. The Greens and Act both voted in favour, with Act’s deputy leader Brooke van Velden saying their support came with an expectation of systemic improvements. The Māori Party voted against, with co-leader Rawiri Waititi saying the party couldn’t support a bill that allowed warrantless access to marae. The continuation will last until the end of the year.

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A new report has found increasing pressure is being put on prime food-growing land by the spread of housing. I covered Our Land 2021 for The Spinoff, which drew connections between land use and a range of other issues, both economic and environmental. In response, Horticulture NZ put out a release calling for “urgent protection” of prime growing land.

Hawke’s Bay is facing a water crisis, and the settlement of Bridge Pā is suffering. The story from The Hui looks at how what water there is has been allocated, with locals arguing that their needs are being overlooked in favour of the horticulture industry. The awa that ran through the area is now often dead and dry, but wine growers are flourishing.

A story that came up earlier in the week but hasn’t been in the Bulletin – parliament’s new build. Justin Giovannetti has covered the plan put forward by the speaker, which aims to solve the space problems parliament is currently operating under. One point about it I hadn’t realised: much of the space parliamentarians work in is actually rented, rather than owned.

An interesting analysis of a quirk in the Sāmoa election, which is that the same party stood multiple candidates in some constituencies. The Samoa Observer’s Sapeer Mayron has explained both the political and cultural reasons behind that, and given examples of where it likely cost the dominant Human Rights Protection Party the seat. We’re still only working with preliminary results, and the formation of the next government is likely still weeks away.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Right now on The Spinoff: Bernard Hickey has an excellent column warning about the generation-defining battles coming up at the next local elections. Ahead of the trans-Tasman bubble inflating, Josie Adams ranks the next best bubbles. Jose Barbosa looks back at old reality TV, and how it was much better and heartier than the slick product we get today. Jihee Junn gives a beginner’s guide to the history and purpose of the minimum wage. And we’re introducing a new feature called Comic of the Month – the first one highlights the work of Indira Neville.

For a feature today, a harrowing story of the justice system punishing a victim. Stuff’s Kirsty Johnston has reported on the case of a domestic violence survivor who was convicted of perjury, despite not lying about the abuse she had suffered. It effectively destroyed her life. It perhaps goes without saying, but a content warning – some readers might find this story extremely distressing. Here’s an excerpt:

As she is reading through, two parts of the judgment confuse Mrs P the most. The first relates to an incident on Mrs P’s own property, where she says her ex-husband assaulted her. Despite police photographs of bruising to her neck, and a reluctant admission from her ex-husband that his knee may have been on her throat, she was not believed.

Mrs P says she doesn’t understand why the judge showed no concern that her ex-husband was on her property, restraining her on the ground, post-separation.

Rather the judge stated the incident was “not a pivotal matter” and that he “failed to see the relevance of the assault in the proceedings”, and that Mrs P had brought it on herself.

In sport, netball’s major domestic competition begins this weekend. This preview story from Kimberlee Downs One News picks up one of the most surprising themes of the upcoming ANZ Premiership – the rise of the Canterbury Tactix. For those who weren’t following, for many years the Tactix were simply an awful sporting team, and now they’re in a position where it’s not a bad shout to say they’re favourites. If nothing else, it goes to show how elite sport is never static.

And one other piece to share: Jamie Wall has analysed the latest news on the two new Pacific teams coming to Super Rugby, if that project can be driven over the line that is. It’s an excellent argument too – while the concept and purpose behind the two teams is necessary and long-overdue, the hurdles they’ll face to being competitive loom much larger than many are admitting right now.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

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