A coalition of Māori health experts and advocates is calling for the Waitangi Tribunal to urgently hear a complaint on the Government’s planned repeal of changes to smokefree legislation.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act (SERPA) was passed by the previous Labour government in 2022.

It would have taken cigarettes out of most dairies, lowered the nicotine levels in cigarettes, and denied sales to anyone born after January 1, 2009.

As part of National’s coalition agreement with New Zealand First, the changes would be repealed by the new government.

Susan Taylor, Hone Harawira, Shane Bradbrook and Dr Amohia Boulton have filed the application.

Te Rōpū Tupeka Kore — a coalition of Māori health experts, academics, and community advocates — said the government’s “inexplicable” push to repeal the changes would cost Māori lives.

“Smoking remains the greatest preventable cause of death among Māori, representing 25% of Māori deaths,” the group said.

“Despite a general decline in cigarette use, significant disparities persist. Latest New Zealand Health Survey findings suggest daily smoking prevalence among Māori is 17%, in contrast to the 6% reported among European/Other populations. SERPA is estimated to prevent over 3000 avoidable deaths among Māori by 2040.”

The claimants argued by failing to engage with Māori on an issue that would lead to the loss of Māori lives, the Government was failing to meet its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

“We are taking this action to bring attention to clear breaches of the treaty. Even basic consultation with the Tiriti partner has been removed and seems to favour big tobacco interests. The Cabinet table is diminishing the protections of not only Māori but all New Zealanders,” Bradbrook said.

Te Rōpū Tupeka Kore chairperson Sue Taylor said she was concerned about the tobacco industry’s tactics.

“We need to shift our focus away from making smoking an individual’s problem. The problem is the tobacco industry and their predatory tactics that keep our people addicted and recruit new people to smoking. The SERPA is a hugely important step towards protecting our well-being.

“To date we have seen protests, a petition with over 50,000 signatures, open letters, pleas from other countries and evidence that indicates that their own voters don’t want this. The government seems to be deaf to Te Tiriti and civil society.”

Harawira, a former MP and long-time smokefree advocate, said the smokefree amendments were positive for Māori and all of New Zealand.

“We want to protect the health of whānau now and in the future. This means not only whānau Maori but all whānau in Aotearoa can thrive free of the burden of nicotine addiction. It will save costs to the healthcare system and be good for our economy. It’s a win, win situation.”

The planned repeal has also been heavily criticised by health leaders and opposition politicians.

In response, the National-led government said it remained committed to lowering smoking rates, but it had concerns about what impact the amendments would have on the black market in New Zealand and in creating targets for crime among retailers.

By Tim Brown of rnz.co.nz