Iwi proposes total tobacco ban

East Coast iwi Ngati Kahungunu are advocating not just to make their marae smoke-free places, but also tobacco-free, as part of a movement to disassociate Maori culture from smoking.

The iwi's Tobacco Use Strategy has gained the support of advocacy organisation Te Reo Marama.

Its director, Shane Bradbrook, said the strategy was the first of its kind because it would get smoke-free policy embedded within traditional Maori law.

"The strategy is multiple: it tries to get iwi better access to existing cessation services. But the other side is that it will utilise cultural devices like tikanga," Mr Bradbrook said.

"This may mean, for example, a marae may decide not only to be a smoke-free marae but may also impose a higher, cultural level that will say this will be a tobacco-free marae. In other words, do not bring any tobacco on to the marae at all."

An estimated 20,000 Ngati Kahungunu iwi members smoked and could be directly affected by the new strategy, Mr Bradbrook said.

"But it doesn't just affect those who smoke - tobacco use in some way impacts on the lives of all 50,000 iwi members."

Not only Ngati Kahungunu but also visiting iwi would respect and adhere to such a cultural law, and it may influence them to follow suit, he said.

"We're hoping that other iwi will look at this stance by Ngati Kahungunu and incorporate similar action."

The strategy may eventually extend beyond the marae and make all sacred places tobacco-free, Mr Bradbrook said. "Iwi may choose to impose tikanga (protocol) on sacred places like mountains and say 'do not go into that place or climb that mountain when you have tobacco on you'."

Mr Bradbook said it could take years for the strategy to become fully operational, but it would have more significance to many Maori than other quit smoking programmes.

ASH director Ben Youdan said Ngati Kahungunu's strategy was consistent with a movement by Maori leaders, politicians and iwi to stop tobacco use, which killed disproportionately high numbers of Maori.

Signs were promising; Quitline had been inundated with calls from areas with high Maori populations since the tobacco tax increase at the end of April, he said.

"It's really about people understanding that tobacco is not part of the Maori tradition, it's something that was brought in with colonisation and it's something that has had a phenomenally bad impact on the health, wellbeing and cultural wellbeing of Maori.

"Making it tapu (forbidden) in all these places is a very important strategy in making it relevant to members of the iwi."

The Ngati Kahungunu Iwi Incorporation Board will hold a working group meeting within the next two weeks to discuss how to best implement the strategy.