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In which country might one hear the most refreshingly straight talk about the tobacco industry in the national legislature? There may be no easy, single answer, but recent experience suggests that New Zealand must be a contender.

While the majority of New Zealanders have been reducing their tobacco consumption for several decades, the indigenous Maori people still have alarmingly high smoking rates. New data announced by the health ministry in September showed that 49.3 per cent of Maori women and 41.5 per cent of Maori men still smoke, compared to just over a fifth of the adult population as a whole. Like many countries with a relatively long history of public education about tobacco, it is among the lower income, more vulnerable minority population where tobacco companies see their greatest hopes of sustaining sales.

Not surprisingly, then, Mr Hone Harawira, a member of parliament for the Maori Party, wants tobacco company executives to be summoned personally to face questions at an inquiry by the Maori Affairs parliamentary select committee into the impact of tobacco use on Maori people. The committee would talk to everybody concerned, he said, before it got to the tobacco companies, implying that he was determined that the fullest powers available to the parliament's Speaker be used to force the New Zealand-based chairpersons and chief executives, not just the public relations “spin doctors”, to be involved.

Mr Harawira made it plain that he expected this to be an uncomfortable experience for those involved. Just in case anyone missed any slight nuance of meaning in his announcement, he added: “to be brutally frank I’d like to lynch these bastards... This is a war against people who kill New …

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