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Should businesses care about community?

Opinion Piece

Businesses that are listed on the stock exchange have an expectation from shareholders to maximise profit so that they provide a shareholder dividend. This expectation has seen businesses make decisions solely based on maximising returns.

In a community like Tairawhiti, where there are very few businesses listed on the NZX, does the same business principle of maximising profit apply? Do we, as business owners, have an ethical responsibility to “do no harm” in our community? Perhaps operating in a “do no harm” manner could be even more beneficial to not only the community but our own balance sheets. Very simply, perhaps the adage of “what goes around comes around” is a fiscally prudent approach.

Or is the responsibility of business to focus all decisions and behaviours on making the most money possible? It does not matter what the business is, where it is located and how it operates if it makes the most money possible.

The question lies in what we perceive a business's responsibilities to be.

When a vape store opens near a school, my personal reaction is one of disgust. This high-profile location will directly target rangatahi/young people by being in their faces every single day they go to school.

For those who are not familiar with the facts around vaping, here they are:

• It is only legal for those over 18 years old.

• Vapes contain nicotine, therefore are addictive.

• Vapes were created to ease smokers off cigarettes and yes, they are “better” for you than a cigarette.

• In 2019, Smokefree NZ reported 12 percent of Year 10s were vaping. Anecdotally, I have heard that figure is greater.

• In Tairawhiti vaping is occurring among Year 7 and 8 students.

• The medical community believe that vaping is now a gateway drug to cigarettes.

And if we are discussing business ethics, 35 percent of vape brand Juul is owned by Philip Morris which manufacturers, guess what, cigarettes.

I am never going to buy cigarettes (which are hidden away behind the counter and do not have kid-appealing names like Pineapple Express or World Cola Express) and am highly unlikely to step into a vape store either, but I don't believe I have the right to say that a store can or cannot trade (it is legal after all). I completely agree with the Mayor when she questions the ethics of where businesses choose to trade. In my opinion, opening a vape store near schools is predatory behaviour and to people that think:

• Rangatahi will not be sold products if they are under 18.

I say, think again. Kids are vaping on buses on the way to intermediate school.

• Vaping does not cause any harm.

Think again. Yes, it is better than smoking but vapes contain nicotine and vapour is being forced into young people's lungs. This is not what our lungs are designed for.

• It is a free world.

Yes, it is, but businesses can act ethically and choose better locations.

In a close-knit community like Tairawhiti we need to protect our children — they can't compete with the marketing savvy of Big Tobacco. Remember, Big Tobacco has very rarely, if ever, behaved ethically — their target market is literally dying, and they must maximise their shareholder return somehow.

Their new target market, our rangatahi, are our future business owners, our future employees and they deserve to live in a community where they are not exploited for financial gain.

Businesses should care about the community they operate in; it is the right thing to do.

Belinda Mackay.

  1. A McKellow says:

    Our concerns about a vape shop close to a school centers around the exposure we introduce and the potential of that exposure to influence our children.
    If we are genuine in this concern we need to take a good look at ourselves.
    The potential harm from vaping is yet to be determined, but will be at some stage in the future.
    The potential harm from exposing our children to alcohol needs no future determination. We know that harm NOW.
    We also know the harm from tobacco NOW.
    Exposure to alcohol occurs through advertising, association with some sports,
    supermarket shopping, our home environment in many cases, and perhaps more concerning the damage through driving under the influence or as a result of alcohol fuelled violence and behaviors.
    Should we be limiting our children’s exposure to the harm from these substances?
    We could start by looking at liscensing approved by our City Council. We could remove alcohol from places that are commonly frequented by children.
    We could show how concerned we are about substance abuse by taking a principled stand instead of an economic one on these matters.