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What's that I see on the eastern horizon? The land of the long white cloud? No, more like the land of the long plume of cigarette smoke.
Across the ditch, the new conservative New Zealand government will reverse legislation to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after 2008.
Introduced by the previous Ardern government, the Smokefree laws were hailed by health experts around the world. Now those experts are horrified that a world leading move to eradicate smoking has been throttled in the name of political expediency.
The reversal was announced by the new Finance Minister Nicola Willis but curiously the intention to undo the Smokefree laws was not mentioned during the election campaign by the National Party, the senior partner in a three-way coalition formed just days ago. It's now emerged the repeal was insisted upon by the junior partners, New Zealand First and Act.
But the other justification for scrapping the Smokefree laws was tax revenue.
"We have to remember that the changes to the Smokefree legislation had a significant impact on the government books, with about a billion dollars there," Willis said in a TV interview.
The logic here is simple - and grotesque. People are addicted to tobacco and we, the government, are hooked on the taxes they pay. Besides, we promised tax cuts to middle and high-income earners. Why not let the poor - the heaviest Kiwi smokers, and those with the most associated health problems, are Maoris - pitch in to pay for them?
Meanwhile, on this side of the ditch, our government will ban the import of single-use vapes from January 1 to try to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts emerging. Its taxation regime and plain packaging laws have contributed to our smoking rates declining to about 11.8 per cent of the population, one of the lowest rates among countries in the OECD.
One of our government's emissions targets that gets little airplay is its aim to reduce daily smoking rates to below 10 per cent of the population by 2025 and below 5 per cent by 2030.
With the average price of a pack of gaspers now well over $40, we've come a long way since I was a teen and you could join the Escort club - "Thirty-three cents and you're a member" - without foregoing food for a day. Smoking is being priced out of existence.
But we shouldn't be too smug. Smoking rates are still stubbornly higher among the most disadvantaged in society - those who can least afford the habit. And we have a looming health crisis with vaping among young Australians, which is why action is being taken to ban single-use vapes.
But we can be grateful we've not yet arrived at the point at which New Zealand finds itself, where to govern a major party has to do deals with junior coalition partners with dubious agendas.
Oh wait ... there's always our Nationals.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Have you been priced out of smoking? Did you struggle to quit or are you still chuffing away? Should we pick up where Jacinda Ardern left off and ban sales of tobacco to people born after 2008? Email us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Former deputy prime minister Michael McCormack's police officer son has been charged following an alleged assault. Nicholas McCormack was arrested when police responded to reports of an assault on William Street in Darlinghurst, Sydney just before 1am on November 25.
- Hundreds of business, political, sport, media and community leaders have signed a letter condemning racism after a huge rise in offensive language, vandalism and harassment across Australia. Data collected by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry showed there had been a 591 per cent increase in reported incidents of anti-Semitism in Australia this year.
- The Nazi salute and hate symbols will be outlawed under new counter terrorism laws. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government was drawing a line in the sand on glorifying hatred. Mr Dreyfus said the bill sent a message that "there is no place in Australia for acts and symbols that glorify the horrors of the Holocaust and terrorist acts".
THEY SAID IT: "E-cigarettes contain many harmful chemicals that tobacco cigarettes do not contain such as formaldehyde, benzene, propylene glycol, and metals like cadmium, nickel, and tin." - Margaret Cuomo
"Thanks, John," writes David. "It's been more than 20 years since my last HSC class finished and you've managed to bring me out in a cold sweat just reading your article. But what you say is ever so true. The pressure is always there to the point where, one year, I dreamt that upon seeing the exam paper, I realised we'd been studying the wrong course material. Wake in fright? Regardless of the pressure, the rewards of teaching were there. These days? Not so sure."
Graham writes: "There was once a time when teachers simply imparted useful knowledge to their pupils and it was the parents' responsibility to civilise their little monsters! Schools in those days were not 'too hard boxes' into which disobliged parents could dump their fundamental responsibilities. A return to basic services is badly needed."
"My hubby is a teacher," writes Lee. "Not only does he work while at school, he also works most nights until about 8. He works weekends to ensure his students get the best opportunity for their individual needs. Those wonderful holidays people talk about are often spent planning for next term or next year. He has a rule that the time between school finishing and January 1 is for us and the rest of the time is planning. He is 'that teacher' already. He gets no extra recognition or thanks. This week he is on duty 24/7 for four days while away on an excursion. There is no overtime or time in lieu, even if he has to attend to a child at 2am."
John writes: "Excellent article and timing! As my wife and I sit here having breakfast reading your post, we can't stop nodding in agreement as to all the details you include. As we are both teachers with over 60 years accumulated between us (primary and secondary education), we appreciate the spotlight you provide for those who give everything for their respective vocations while receiving sometimes very little back from both students and their ever demanding parents. Teachers today - still human by all accounts but facing beyond human demands - need greater acknowledgement and respect for their endeavours which are primarily based on their desire to educate and see their students flourish. I could say more but hey ... there's a before-school meeting to attend and parent emails to respond to."
"Despite the recommendations of many think tanks and reviews," writes Bruce, "the reason teachers are leaving in droves and no one is entering the profession is the alarming proliferation of violence, abuse, anti-authoritarian and general disrespect of an ever increasing number of students and parents. One metric is the less than encouraging NAPLAN results; if students aren't behaving they're not learning. I have been teaching in the public and private sectors for nearly 40 years. And I'm a huge fan of classroom teachers who are the most skilled practitioners in the world. Leadership is the problem."
Sue writes: "Be That Teacher is not going to solve the problem, but if it brings in people to the profession then it should contribute to a solution. I work in a school in an area where there is a very large socioeconomic range and which presents many social difficulties. The school responds by providing a significant range of support options, many formal ones and some that allow both formal and informal support for 'spontaneous' issues or situations. Being aware of the need to be support students in crisis situations is a constant factor in teaching. Do we mollycoddle our students? Perhaps we do, but we are also trying to teach them resilience, about ways to deal with crises in their lives, to help them deal with identity, to develop social skills that they may not be learning at home, to accept themselves and others and to respect their differences."
The last word goes to Connor from Newcastle: "I'm a teacher and I promise the stress of offending a student is not the top of my priority list. The vast majority of students are perfectly reasonable young adults who don't get offended at the drop of a hat, unless someone is being intentionally bigoted. People can make mistakes and the kids, more than adults, have grace for this human flaw. The more difficult issue for me is managing behaviour without the support of parents. The paperwork is stressful, sure. Wanting to give your five best presentations for 120-150 uninterested stakeholders day-in, day-out is tough, sure. The special after-school and before-school activities, the camps and excursions, the lesson plans left for casuals are all added layers of stress. Sure. But when I call little Johnny's parents and say that he was racist at school today by telling our refugee students that Australia is already full and they should **** off and I'm met with a 'my boy wouldn't do that' is when teaching is really difficult. Teaching with all its stresses would still be the best job in the world, if our job was to teach, not to try and raise these kids with disinterested parents."