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New Zealand will indefinitely ban cigarettes for future generations

By Alma Fabiani

Dec 9, 2021

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On Thursday 9 December 2021, the New Zealand government announced it would ban all sales of cigarettes for its future generations, as part of the country’s push to go smoke-free by 2025. New legislation means the legal smoking age will increase every year to create a smoke-free generation of New Zealanders, associate health minister Doctor Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, explained in an interview with The Associated Press. “This is a historic day for the health of our people,” she said.

Given how the minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18 at the moment, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years. This means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could still buy cigarettes—but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old. Meanwhile, anyone who’s currently 14 or under will never be able to buy tobacco in the country. Legally, at least.

That’s not the only thing New Zealand implemented in an attempt to reach its goal of having fewer than 5 per cent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025. Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be introduced over time from 2022 to help retailers adjust.

According to The Independent, smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 per cent of adults now smoking and 9 per cent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Māori remains much higher at 22 per cent. Under the government’s new plan, a task force would be created to help reduce smoking among Māori.

Big tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they aren’t hiked even higher. “We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Doctor Verrall said to NPR. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”

As of today, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand. It accounts for one in four cancers and results in around 5,000 smoking-related premature deaths every year. “While smoking rates are heading in the right direction, we need to do more, faster to reach our goal. If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5 percent, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind,” Doctor Verrall shared in a government statement.

Not included in this most recent legislation is a ban on vaping, which studies have shown is about two to three times more prevalent than smoking in New Zealand. Meanwhile, some health experts in the country have already criticised the upcoming ban, such as Karen Chhour, the spokesperson for New Zealand’s opposing right-wing ACT party, who called the new changes “bad policy making.”

“The Government’s gradual ban on all tobacco sales is prohibition plain and simple and it will eventually create a black market,” she said in a statement.