Our little country has its fair share of challenges at the moment. Most of it is not good. The stuff that’s important is in bad shape. Education, health, law and order, the cost of living; the list goes on. And that’s before we get to the broken economy the new government will inherit.

But there is one thing we do have right. Our smoke free policy should be the envy of the world. From memory, the original “Smokefree New Zealand” campaign was ushered in by Helen Clark’s government in 2004. Since then, our progress towards that goal has been consistently successful and is something we should celebrate.

Smokefree New Zealand is something we should shout about to others too. It’s a desirable feature of our little country.

I’ve just had a couple of weeks overseas. Sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have at home until you go away. The European way of lighting up, often groups of four or six all going at once, at the table next to you is something we’re not used to. And I don’t like it! In fact, it’s just plain awful.

Back home in New Zealand, the likelihood of being smoked out at a restaurant or even a family barbeque is no longer present. It’s a testament to what can be achieved when successive governments sign up to consistent policy. It’s a fantastic outcome and we should be proud of it and hold on to it.

However, sadly we seem to be on a rapid trajectory to replacing cigarette smoking with the equally obnoxious habit of vaping, where ridiculous odours are accompanied by huge plumes of white smoke, and all the while the operator of the “vaping device’ seems to think that blowing their smoke in your face is ok.

I haven’t noticed as many vapers in Italy. And those that do vape are much more subtle with their habit than they are back home. They appear almost embarrassed, much the same as our cigarette smokers do.

Having sorted out our demand for cigarettes, it’s a shame we’ve let vaping take hold of our teenagers. Our next ‘anti-smoking’ initiative on behalf of lung health must surely be to get vaping out of our society. Perhaps, like cigarettes, we really need to tax the hell out of it until it goes away.

With all that in mind I can’t believe that we still have politicians, people who we pay,  continuing the campaign to legalise or at least decriminalise cannabis. Most of those politicians haven’t changed their views on the topic, since they campaigned for the 2020 referendum. A referendum that was narrowly lost, incidentally.

And yet, since 2020, the case for legalisation has changed dramatically. In case you haven’t noticed, there are now plenty of cities around the world, and in North America in particular, that prove the legalisation or decriminalisation experiment to have failed.

San Francisco is a mess. What was once one of my favourite cities, has major corporations abandoning their downtown offices because of the drug induced carnage on their doorsteps and danger to their people. Union Square, once the hub of the shopping precinct, now has vacant stores with major retailers having departed. The legalised marijuana industry has, as many predicted, unleashed a torrent of drug abuse across the city, with the mega-dangerous Fentanyl taking lives and livelihoods away.

As many North American cities are proving, drugs bring more drugs, crime, and levels of homelessness and poverty way beyond what our tiny country can imagine.

And if you’re still not convinced, there’s a documentary worth watching. It’s called “Vancouver is dying”. It’s about another of my once favourite cities being ruined by the woke politicians who can’t resist the legalisation message, and the havoc being created on the streets as a result.

Having made so much progress over 20 years on becoming a smoke free nation, and hence a healthier one, why would we give it all up for the sake of a fad (vaping) or by falling for the legalisation message? Having come this far, I’d love to see the new government ‘double down’ on our goal to become smoke free. Shut the vaping stores down, and eliminate the calls for legalisation or decriminalisation once and for all.

It’s not just damaged cities. Look at the source of much of the crime. Look at the increased road deaths and related statistics. The evidence of other countries and numerous North American states is overwhelming. And those politicians that haven’t changed their views in the past five years, should bring themselves up to date.

New Zealanders have collectively fought long and hard for a smoke free status that is almost unique in the world. And we’re better off at every level as a result. Our health. Our kid’s health. And the health of our nation.

Let’s stick with the plan and remain smoke free.

This article was first published on Newstalk ZB Plus, Tuesday 26th September, 2023.