Tariana Turia on Q&A, regarding smoking:
“If I’m being really honest, I don’t think that having a substance that kills people should be allowed to be sold.”
HURRAH! Some actual internal consistency from a member of the anti-smoking brigade.
It is of course an internal consistency limited to the smoking debate itself (other “substances” that kill people which Turia isn’t advocating banning: cars, guns, pregnancy – especially teen Maori pregnancy, which is apparently just choice).
But, like the rare prolifer who admits that parental notification has fuck-all to do with parents’ “rights” and is just a stepping stone to full banning of abortion, the honesty is refreshing.
Australia is moving towards legislating that all cigarettes be sold in “plain” packaging, and various New Zealand groups are all in favour. So are a few dudes I normally line up with on social issues.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to launch into some grand Liberty For All Against The Dark Forces Of The Nanny State argument, like Stephen Berry there. I’m completely on board with concerns about the health effects of smoking, of secondhand smoke, the fact that younger people and Maori are more likely to be smokers, and of course, the fact that when you’re talking about highly addictive substances it’s a bit fucking stupid to pretend doing it is the equivalent of not eating raw fish or only buying pink tech accessories.
The problem I have is that I have no idea how this is meant to achieve what it’s claimed it’s meant to achieve.
Put it this way: we’re going to stop young people smoking … by making it more illicit, more Something Your Parents Do Not Approve Of, more exactly-what-appeals-to-disengaged-young-folk?
We’re going to stop Maori smoking by saying “hey, you know that addictive habit we white people introduced, along with alcohol and syphillis, to your culture, which you may be using as an aid to get through the day, a way to socialise during work? Well you should be ashamed of yourselves, and thank the nice white powers that be for getting you hooked in the first place and now punishing you for it.”
Yes, smoking rates are trending downwards in demographic groups like young Maori women, but this probably has a lot more to do with continuous increases in the price of cigarettes forcing them to space out their smokos than with any actual attitude change towards smoking.
And you know, I realise they’re completely motivated by self-interest, but if BAT and PM are right about the potential to create a black market in knock-off ciggies, that trend could quite happily reverse on itself.
Especially with the above-mentioned “ooh, your mum will hate this!” added vibe.
Add to that a mainstream culture where some of the top-rated shows are about criminals with hearts of gold (Sons of Anarchy), the inevitability of prohibition failing because people like mind-altering chemicals (Boardwalk Empire), and big sexy challenges (Mad Men) to the current push by ASH and similar organisations to pretend that smoking was never cool, never ever, not even in the 70s-pretending-to-be-the-50s.
And what is this all meant to achieve? Well, it’s part of the much-touted aspiration set by our government, at the behest of their coalition deal with the Maori Party, to make NZ “smoke free” by 2025.
An aspiration that I frankly have a lot of problems with.
Key one? If you really want to make NZ smokefree, have the fucking guts to just ban tobacco, maybe on some kind of phasing-out process, pour some money into addiction programmes (because it might just pay to remember that people may start smoking for reasons we think are stupid but they probably continue because it’s addictive), stand by your principles and make it happen. Otherwise, frankly, you’re just a part of the problem, expecting to have your smoking-is-disgusting-and-bad-and-killing-our-kids cake and eating it with a but-we-can-let-another-generation-of-kids-get-hooked fork.
No (foreseeable) government is ever going to just ban smoking, and thus no government is ever going to make New Zealand nominally smoke-free (I say nominally because as we all know, Prohibition was a total success.) It’s just going to be aspirational, and a lot of people will get to feel superior to those Poor Stupid Smokers (including people who are smokers, like Stephen Berry, but seem to take some kind of perverse pride in their dependency).
Even before you take into account the massive resources of the tobacco industry, the fact is that smokers can probably be broken down into two key groups: (a) people who are addicted to nicotine and feel a bit down on themselves for ever starting the stupid habit and have maybe already got the message just a little bit that it’s bad for them and are a bit fucking over being talked to like they’re six years old*, and (b) people who started because it was rebellious and cool and are already pissed off they can’t have a smoke with their after-work beers** and will definitely be a tad unimpressed at having a bunch of preachy no-fun people taking away their heretofore normal-part-of-Western-culture-for-about-400-plus-years vice.
There’s also (c) “social smokers” who can happily go without a puff for ages, but then just assume the normal proportion of them are against it on various principles of freedom/liberty/free markets/etc.
Another thing that grinds my gears? Phrases like this:
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said yesterday that the Cabinet had agreed to introduce plain packaging … but only after public consultation.
Boy, I sure have faith in that democratic process. It totally bolsters my faith in our political system when politicians show they really want to weigh everything up and debate the pros and cons before implementing exactly what they’d already decided to implement.
Enough from me. Have some damn funny smokers.
*Yes, you may now play a game of spot-who-has-dated-several-smokers.
**This should not be read as condemnation of the ban on smoking in pubs, I love it.
I know how this one is going to play, dear readers. It’s just going to be another evil, spiteful, bitchy, undermining, white-anting hysterical rant from a no-name bitch who no one likes who just hates Labour because she’s evil, and is just too picky, etc etc, and you know what? Go for your life. At this point I’m treating the whole thing as an historical exercise, writing down my thoughts now so in years ahead I can look back and say “fuck I was smart back then”.
And I do also understand that this is how politics works: find something that vaguely aligns to this week’s hot topic, and use it to try to turn the conversation back to yourself.
And I’ve previously said that it cannot be difficult for the left to put child poverty firmly on the agenda this election.
So when the Child Poverty Action Group’s report, Left Further Behind, got released last week, it was inevitable that as many parties as possible (the Nats and ACT excluded for fairly obvious reasons) would jump up with their hands in the air to cry “teacher, teacher, I have important thoughts on this!” like that beardy bastard in first-year philosophy/pols classes who thinks wasting half the class musing on the topic of “but is it not perhaps natural for man to seek a leader?” will really impress the professor.
Of course they were going to make this report about themselves. Of course you were going to get press releases with titles like “More evidence shows need for a plan to end child poverty” with the ever-so-subtle implication, “AND WE HAVE THAT PLAN”.
But I’m sorry, Labourites, yours in particular? Just a bit too far.
Here’s the context. Labour introduced Working for Families. CPAG made a complaint about Working for Families discriminating on the basis of family status. Labour, in government, fought damned hard against CPAG, with Crown Law even demanding a judicial review on the basis that CPAG, not being itself a starving beneficiary child, could not make such a complaint.
Now, CPAG’s report covers the introduction of WFF, noting it wasn’t as generous as a similar scheme in Australia (p51), and didn’t make allowance for big events like the recession or Pike River putting people involuntarily out of work (something the current Government kinda dealt with.) (p58) They agree that yes, things have got worse under NACT, and yes, they note that many many more children would have been in poverty today without WFF.
On p51, CPAG further notes that Labour is rethinking its attitude to WFF, and quotes Annette King on the subject. But a bit of a newsflash here: this is not CPAG jumping on some awesome Labour bandwagon, this is CPAG saying thanks for finally fucking listening to us on this, peeps.
Labour is also mentioned in other sections on removing GST from fruit and veg, the repeal of s59, early childhood education etc etc.
But no, sorry, Annette, sorry, Labour media team, sorry, Labour supporters; Left Further Behind contains not a single hint that CPAG “supports” Labour’s policies. Which is not really surprising, since CPAG is going for that whole “not politically affiliated” vibe.*
The Labour fans out there, no doubt already marshalling the usual “but John Key is Satan”, “but Labour is our last best hope for peace” lines, will not doubt point out that the press release doesn’t specifically say that CPAG are specifically explicitly and deliberately advocating in favour of Labour’s policies.
Not good enough, my friends.
Because the headline of the press release is
Labour welcomes Child Poverty Action Group support
Not even “Labour welcomes CPAG report” or “Labour endorses CPAG report” or “Labour’s policies in line with CPAG report”.
If the only thing you read (and please, stop for a moment to consider the standards of our mainstream media) was the headline, you would certainly come away with the impression that CPAG had endorsed Labour in some way.
Sorry, but they didn’t.
Then consider nice weaselly statements like
The … report released today confirms Labour’s policies
… when it doesn’t say anything about Labour’s policies …
I am pleased that so many organisations are coming together with the shared view that we must all do better for our children.
… as though CPAG were a new kid on the block in this area and just happened to have a really appropriate name …
and absolutely most fucking egregiously:
The Child Poverty Action Group has mirrored much of the policy that has already been announced by Labour
Mirrored. MIRRORED. Y’all may want to accuse me of being petty and pedantic, but you know what mirrors do? Reflect things that are already there. Obvious implication of this statement? Labour already thought of this first and CPAG are just joining in.
I’d hate to think that this is actually part of some official Labour key messages document: “Always speak as though all good things are inspired by us”, “always act as though we had every good idea first”. But it’s becoming a bit of a theme, and it’s far too closely related to “always act as though we are the one true leftwing god”, “the Greens are filthy traitors stealing our rightful votes” attitudes.
Child poverty is a serious fucking deal in NZ, and God knows I’m happy to see any party taking it seriously. But Labour has a pretty shit track record on this one, and it’s not one they’re keen to talk about (another recurring meme). So frankly, peeps, I am not looking in that direction for any actual answers.
I’m going to look to groups like CPAG. Here’s what they have to say about the future of eliminating child poverty (p73):
There are very good arguments for a universal payment, but in 2011 we have very wide income disparities and we do not have progressive taxation to fund redistribution. In addition, the poorest children miss out on payments in the current system because payments are tied to their parents’ paid work activity, not solely to income.
A universal payment alone is incapable of addressing child poverty with the current restrictions: fiscally it would mean that in order to make a payment to children that alleviated poverty, the payment level would have to be so high that we could not do it without either raising the top tax rates considerably to pay for it, or sacrificing some other worthy spending. Eliminating poverty has to be the first priority and this requires targeting assistance to the lowest income families. It would be possible (and desirable) to have a universal dimension, comparatively small initially, but the most significant assistance in the immediate future will need to be targeted at the poorest children. This could be the first step towards a universal payment for all children.
I’m sure they’d be happy for political parties to push these ideas, free of charge. But acting like this report actively supports any specific party, particularly Labour? Acting like this is some kind of “me, too!” to Labour’s awesome godlike child poverty policies which date back to the dawn of Westminster? Get your fucking hand off it, mate.
*Just to make it crystal clear: this is what it looks like when CPAG “supports” a Labour policy. Just so y’all know in future.
PS. Seriously, Labour. All this would have taken to be a good-news story from me (because it’s all about me) was to can the entitlement complex and say “This report is good, we’re happy we can see we’re going in the right direction, we did make mistakes last time and we’re not going to do it again.” How hard is that? Once you’ve taught your leadership team to say “sorry”, that is.