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Contributed by the National Māori Tobacco Control Leadership

According to the latest census, all iwi have seen a significant drop in their numbers of regular smokers with an average decrease of around nine to ten per cent from 2006-2013.


81 per cent of Māori now live in urban areas, at least one-third live outside their tribal influence, more than one-quarter do not know their iwi or do not choose to affiliate with it, and at least 70 per cent live outside the traditional tribal territory.


Ngā Puhi, New Zealand’s largest iwi saw the biggest drop in numbers of regular smokers with a decrease of 9.9% followed closely by Ngāti Tuwharetoa and Tūhoe. Iwi with the smallest numbers of regular smokers include Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngā Puhi. All three of these iwi sit under the national smoking rate for Māori of 32.7%. Conversely, iwi like Tūhoe (38.2%) Waikato, Ngāti Maniapoto and Ngāti Tuwharetoa currently sit above the Māori national average. The national average is 15%, which means Māori are smoking at just over double the rate of the general population.

Maybe unsurprising, as the number of regular smokers has declined, the number of Māori who identify as “never smokers” or smokefree has increased. Being smokefree and tobacco free is now the norm for all iwi. “A thriving iwi needs thriving descendants. A focus on iwi health will be a major focus” says Naida Glavish spokesperson Whānau Ora Iwi Leaders Forum.

In 2010 Ngāti Kahungunu, the third largest tribe in New Zealand, became the first iwi to develop a comprehensive strategy to rid tobacco from the lives of its people. The Strategy incorporates a blend of both tobacco control strategies such as using cessation services and traditional cultural lore (tikanga) that will remove not only the use of tobacco products but also the carrying of tobacco on to sites such as marae and wāhi tapu (sacred sites). The Ngāti Kahungunu strategy is also included as part of the Hawkes Bay District Health Board’s tobacco free policy.

More recently, in 2014 the Iwi Leaders Forum committed to the Tupeka Kore 2025 goal.  “The networks and relationships that iwi have mean they are able to reach whānau at a level government agencies cannot” says Zoe Martin-Hawke.