Harm reduction offers an efficient, fast way to reduce smoking-related harms. Using netball as an analogy - this is when a team gets the ball and they pass it cleanly from one player to the next down the court. The opposition doesn’t get a look in.  The Goal Shooter sends the ball on a perfect arc. The parents applaud. Etiquette was observed, people played by the rules – there were no penalties, no contact, no one got hurt. 

In a game of draughts, it’s called a ‘checkers run’.

Even if the opposition puts up a fight, well… that’s to be expected – especially when they stand to lose their business. But when your own side undermines your run – now that’s frustrating!

Of course, tobacco control isn’t a game. Real people are dying. We can’t afford to have people running around demanding the ball, looking like they’re doing something when they’re just diverting attention away from the checkers run, delaying achievement of the goal – that is, helping people to stop smoking or switch to low-risk alternatives.

Instead of focusing on these ‘Centres’ yelling for attention all the time, we should be thinking as a team – how can we support quitting or switching among as many people as possible? And, all sorts of people – not just the elites, the kids of the rich, the dominant class. No subgroups should be denied their right to get to the same destination in their own way (for example, in a culturally different way).

In New Zealand, a few “Centres” are running around demanding that their way is the right way and the fastest way. They’re even claiming their way is ‘pro-equity’, which is double speak for, “It’ll be good for the ‘natives’.” 

The loud, everywhere-at-once Centres on the tobacco-control court in New Zealand have managed to trick the latest, new-to-politics Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall into putting their ball in play. She put their alternative strategy out for consultation before we know if the final vaping regulations are going to further undermine a harm reduction approach. Surely, we need to know how easy it’s going to be for people to stop smoking before commenting on a new raft of savage policies. Meanwhile, the dominating ‘Centres’ are celebrating as if they’ve won gold. They’re already telling the public it’s “the Government’s plan”– as if what is proposed is a done deal.

Three policies are up for ‘discussion’:
A) You can play netball but there will be no more balls.
B) You can play netball, but the courts will be moved far away to hard-to-reach locations with expensive parking. And every year the number of netball courts will be reduced until there are none.
C) Only existing players can continue to play netball and if someone drops out of the team they can’t be replaced.

All three policies will require ‘re-orienting’ millions from serious social problems and co-opting police to stop a new black market in balls, the creation of secret netball courts and illegitimate games.  Already overwhelmed mental health services will fail more people as netball-withdrawal syndrome hits the population en masse. As for the justice system – well, there’ll have to be riots. How can any ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ advocate stand by while New Zealand shoves ever more Indigenous people behind bars? Already over half the people imprisoned in New Zealand are Māori – yet we make up only 16% of the population. We’re big on sports though and have by far the highest proportion of netball players.

My submission on this Bloomberg-inspired future for New Zealand, and the unintended negative consequences that will disproportionately affect Māori and other groups with high numbers of netball players, is here

Funding statement: 

The work of the Centre of Research Excellence: Indigenous Sovereignty & Smoking was funded with a grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, a US nonprofit 501(c)(3) private foundation with a mission to end smoking in this generation. The Foundation accepts charitable gifts from PMI Global Services Inc. (PMI); under the Foundation’s Bylaws and Pledge Agreement with PMI, the Foundation is independent from PMI and the tobacco industry. The contents, selection, and presentation of facts, as well as any opinions expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and under no circumstances shall be regarded as reflecting the positions of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Inc.