MP Tau Henare says smokers are the 'new lepers'. Are they unfairly maligned?
National MP Tau Henare is smoking again and has suggested it is OK for pregnant women to do the same.
A parliamentary hearing into the wellbeing of Maori children was told yesterday that controlling tobacco was the single most important thing the Government could do.
Mr Henare, who has publicly struggled to give up smoking, took offence at that.
Smokers were paying for their own healthcare through their $1.5 billion tax bill and were sick of being looked down upon, he said.
"One of the things, as a smoker and smokers hate, is having this feeling of being ostracised in their community, being told off, being treated like some sort of pariah."
It was "seriously depressing" having to go outside in the cold to smoke. "We are the new lepers of the community."
The most heated exchange was between Mr Henare and Joanna Houston, of Smokechange, a Canterbury organisation that helps pregnant women quit.
"A smokefree pregnancy is the best gift any woman can give their pepi [baby]," she told the hearing.
Smoke-exposed babies were born compromised and disadvantaged, she said.
Mr Henare disputed that and asked if Ms Houston knew of any woman who had smoked while pregnant. "What's wrong with your children?" he asked when Ms Houston replied that she had.
She said her son had asthma and eczema and her daughter asthma, allergies and a compromised immune system.
"When I look at my daughter . . . the first question I ask is: if I didn't smoke in my pregnancy would she be different? And I'll never know," she replied emotionally.
Mr Henare also objected to suggestions that children from smoking families were more likely to smoke. "Then all my kids should smoke, not one of them smokes and I've got five of them."
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians told the hearing Maori women had low rates of breastfeeding and should be financially compensated to encourage them to breastfeed.
Mr Henare said he had never heard [ such a] stupid idea in all his life. "It's no wonder the Maori can't stand the society that they live in at the moment."
They were being told they were sick, dumb and uneducated, he said.
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