08 Oct 2009
Shane Kawenata Bradbrook is fighting for a tobacco-free Māori (indigenous New Zealander) nation – just as his ancestors once had.
Shane fights this battle through the non-profit organization Te Reo Mārama, which is based in Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand. He has been working as the organization’s director for 10 years and admits he began working there by accident.
“But six months into the job I knew I wanted to join the fight against the tobacco industry and move our people towards a tobacco-free world just as our ancestors had.”
In Māori Te Reo Mārama means enlightenment through discussion and the organization’s tagline – Kaupapa Tupeka Kore focuses on tobacco free.
Te Reo Mārama was established in 1998 and Shane says its name reflects the organization’s core job of enlightening people about tobacco issues that are relevant to Māori.
“It’s all about informing our people about the tobacco industry and their behaviour that effectively strips our culture of the most precious resource – people,” Shane said. “It’s important to maintain our culture – language, lore, traditions, cultural practice, stories and songs – and it’s important for our people to maintain and strengthen this transmission of ancestral knowledge.”
The organization’s main role is to advocate evidence based positions on tobacco related issues for Māori at a political and policy level. To do this, Te Reo Mārama is working on tobacco taxation measures in New Zealand.
“A number of NGOs are striving to have firstly tax harmonisation of loose tobacco in alignment with manufactured cigarettes (there is a tax differentiation) and secondly to have tax increased overall on all tobacco,” he said. “There has been no tax increase (apart from inflation adjustments) for nine years.”
According to Shane, convincing the Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance that tax is an effective public health tool in lowering prevalence rates is Te Reo Mārama’s greatest challenge.
“However, the Associate Minister of Health has signalled that they support harmonisation and an increase in tax”.
Tobacco resistance is spreading throughout Aotearoa-New Zealand and has lead to a marked drop in Māori smoking rates during the past five years.
“It has been in decline but it is plateauing – tax increases are needed. Ultimately one wants to see our people move more rapidly but there is a lot of work to be undertaken,” says Shane.
Shane attributes the decline to a mix of legislation, existing campaigns and community leadership. This means Māori are benefitting from improved health, economic freedom and the ability to transmit cultural knowledge because they live longer. “So we have cultural longevity which brings greater transmission of our culture,” says Shane.
However, more work is needed for these figures to drop even further.
Shane says that a change in government policy which provides greater recognition of Māori is important as well as an increased workforce in cessation, health promotion, research and advocacy plus more funding in cessation services and specific multi-media campaigns.
Shane says that FCTC provisions are already largely in place within New Zealand so there is an advantage.
“While Aotearoa-New Zealand enjoys many of the benefits that are within the FCTC there is still the ultimate vision of ridding tobacco from our communities,” he said.