As New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 deadline draws closer, the Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) has just awarded $4.95 million in funding for the Whakahā o Te Pā Harakeke programme. This programme will be led in partnership by Otago University, Hāpai Te Hauora, Kōkiri Marae, Keriana Olsen Trust, and ESR.

The programme aims to develop and improve ways to close smoking disparities for Māori and Pasifika as well as push towards a Smokefree Aotearoa. Whakahā o Te Pā Harakeke is one of only five to receive Programme Funding from the Health Research Council.

Research, Science and Innovation Minister, Megan Woods, gave her support this morning and stated that "Investing in Māori and Pacific health creates resilient communities and is crucial to enabling advances in wellbeing for Māori and for New Zealand as a whole".

Lizzie Strickett (Ngāpuhi/ Te Aupōuri) is a named investigator and will lead the Hāpai te Hauora research team in its field of expertise. Ms Strickett says that this is a significant opportunity to build Māori research capacity. Most importantly, she hopes the findings from this programme will be meaningful for Māori communities, whose leadership needs to be recognised in the effort to becoming smokefree.

"Given that we’re losing 5,000 whānau members a year to tobacco related illness, I would say this research is more than important- it is essential. We’re grappling with how we will return to having our homes and communities smokefree- like it once was for us, and we believe only whānau have these answers.

We’ve been privileged enough to be welcomed into the homes and marae of whānau who have shared such innovative and thoughtful solutions on how to get there, and think this research will be one way in which we can translate their whakaaro into action."

Mr Andrew Waa (Ngāti Hine) is a primary investigator from Otago University and states that collaborating with different sectors is incredibly important to ensure leaders at every level from communities to government have a chance to contribute.

"From a Māori perspective, we need to better understand what is causing smoking disparities to exist and what we can do from a policy perspective. We also need to engage and support from a community perspective too."

Hāpai General Manager for Tobacco Control, Mihi Blair (Ngāti Whātua), will take on an advisory role for the programme and believes this funding demonstrates a government commitment to improving Māori health.

"We have a government that share our aspiration for our tamariki to lead smokefree lives and communities. The Associate Health Minister, Jenny Salesa, recently committed to an action plan to be smokefree by 2025. We hope that these insights could help inform the direction we go in as a country to achieve that goal."