Health workers fired-up over smokefree repeal

Angry health workers took to the streets of Christchurch today, demanding the coalition government stub out their plans to repeal the smokefree legislation.

About 200 people gathered at a rally organised by the New Zealand Nurses Union to protest the government's plan to repeal the legislation, which was introduced last term by Labour.

The law would have banned the sale of tobacco to anyone born from January 1 in 2009, cut the number of retailers allowed and restrict the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes.

It has been scrapped by the government to fund tax cuts. 

Union delegate Erica Donovan called on the government to stop putting profits ahead of the health of the nation.

"The overall feeling amongst health workers would be that this is a poor choice for the national government, a choice that is harming our people and will continue to harm generations."

Labour's health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall told the crowd the government's plans to repeal...
Labour's health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall told the crowd the government's plans to repeal the smokefree legislation came as a "complete surprise". PHOTO: GEOFF SLOAN
The Nurses Union said highly addictive tobacco causes more deaths in New Zealand than any other drug, and is responsible for about 5000 New Zealanders’ deaths each year.

"We're saying no. We're saying no as members of the public, we're saying no as health care workers and we're saying no as whanau members of loved ones who have been affected by smoking".

The rally near Christchurch Hospital was the latest in a series of nationwide protests against the policy change.

Labour's health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall also slammed the plans by the new administration.

"The day after the coalition agreement is signed, not only are they repealing the laws, but the Finance Minister is in the press saying this is how they're going to fund their tax cuts".

But Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said the smokefree legislation would have driven up crime, with gangs getting in on black market cigarettes.

He said the government would continue work to discourage the habit.

Protesters are promising more action next year if the decision to repeal the smokefree law goes ahead.

- By Geoff Sloan
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