Smoke-free Environments (Controls and Enforcement) Amendment Bill — First Reading

Thursday, December 9, 2010

It is a great deal of pleasure to rise and speak on the Smoke-free Environments (Controls and Enforcement) Amendment Bill. The ACT Party will be casting a split vote on this issue. I and one of my colleagues will be voting for the bill and I will outline some of the reasons for that. Some of my colleagues will be voting against it, and I will also take the opportunity to explain their reasoning. However, I would like to acknowledge some of the people who have contributed to this bill this evening. Mention has already been of Tariana Turia and the role she has played as an Associate Minister of Health.

I have a long-term interest in this issue. I think it is an absolute tragedy that some 5,000 New Zealanders die each year from cancer, from diseases associated with smoking. Largely, those are diseases that can be prevented. I think it is further a tragedy that tobacco causes addiction. People, by and large, take up smoking at a young age when they are not mature, when their brains have not fully matured, and they get to a stage where they simply cannot give up. I am sure we all know people who smoke and who have repeatedly tried to give up smoking but the addiction sure is so strong that a number of them are unable to.

I believe that we should be taking any measure we can take as a Parliament to reduce the incidence of people taking up smoking at an early stage. However, it has been an issue of dispute within the ACT Party for a number of years. The ACT Party is a party that promotes freedom, freedom of choice, but it is also a party that speaks up for ordinary New Zealanders. I have always sincerely believed that it is ACT Party policies that will do most to promote the welfare, the education, and the greater prosperity for all New Zealanders. That is one of the reasons I first joined the ACT Party when I learnt of its philosophies and policies in 1995.

But I recall an ACT conference in the early 2000s in Christchurch when the Labour Government was looking to pass its amendments to the smoke-free environments legislation. I challenged a number of our sitting MPs at the time. Without exception, one by one, they all got up to defend their opposition to what the Labour Government was proposing at the time. So the ACT Party has not been united on this issue. Some of us support the legislation that is outlined this evening and others oppose it.

I am not trying to make political capital; it is sad that some in this House are this evening. I think these issues are health issues. I commend Tariana Turia. I particularly acknowledge Iain Lees-Galloway. I believe that having had his member’s bill pulled from the ballot must have contributed in some small way, if not in some significant way, to having this bill before the House today. I am sure Tariana Turia did a huge amount in her role as an Associate Minister of Health. I thought it was very generous for Iain Lees-Galloway to stand in the House this evening and give considerable acknowledgment to the role that Tariana Turia had played and the role that Hone Harawira had played in, first of all, instigating an inquiry in the Māori Affairs Committee and pushing it through. He mentioned his own role only towards the end of his speech. Once again, I thought it was very generous of him to acknowledge the support of others. So I thought it was very fitting of Ruth Dyson to draw to the attention of the House the role that Iain Lees-Galloway has played in this issue.

The question was asked “What has changed?”. Paul Hutchison, the chair of the Health Committee, said that the evidence had become more compelling and that there had been reports from Finland, Iceland, the UK, and North America where measures such as those being proposed tonight have had an influence on the quantity of tobacco sold and on the number of people taking up smoking at a young age. I have to say that the members of my own party who do not support this bill have some doubt about the evidence. I do not doubt that their concerns and uncertainties are truly felt. I do not doubt their sincerity in having that view. There must clearly be some conflict, but what I have seen from the Action on Smoking and Health lobby group, which spoke to me, shows me that the justification for these steps is there.

I take some pride in supporting this bill along with one of my colleagues. We will split our vote, but, notwithstanding that, I have no doubt that this legislation will pass. I think it will be very, very good for the people of New Zealand. Thank you