New Zealand has announced plans to ban smoking to the next generation, meaning those born after 2008 will never legally be able to buy tobacco products. The new legislation will lead to the legal smoking age rising each year, creating a smoke-free generation according to ministers.
Associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said, “This is a historic day for the health of our people.” She added, “We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”
The Government also announced plans to drastically limit where tobacco products can be sold, removing them from supermarkets and corner shops. Currently, there’s around 8000 shops authorised to sell cigarettes, but this will drop to just 500 once the new measures come into force.
They also plan to reduce the legal amount of nicotine in cigarettes to lessen addiction and increase funding into stop smoking services. As part of their Smokefree by 2025 goal, the Government has already stated that the new laws will not restrict vape sales, recognising vaping as a healthier alternative for those trying to quit.
New Zealand’s daily smoking rates have consistently decreased over the last decade, dropping to 11.6% in 2018 from 18% in 2008. However, smoking rates are much higher amongst the country’s statistically poorest communities.
29% of Māori and 18% of Pasifika people still regularly smoke, with Māori also suffering a much higher rate of disease and death compared to white New Zealanders. Verrall said that the plan focuses on this growing issue, adding, “If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5%.”
The news has received a mixed reaction, but doctors and healthcare professionals have praised the legislation. Dr Natalie Walker, director of the Centre for Addiction Research at University of Auckland, said, “New Zealand once again leads the world – this time with a cutting-edge Smokefree 2025 implementation plan – it’s truly a game changer.”
"It will help people quit or switch to less harmful products, and make it much less likely that young people get addicted to nicotine," added Professor Janet Hook from the University of Otago.
Others have criticised the plans, raising concerns that the all-out ban will lead to an increase in tobacco smuggling. Speaking to New Zealand’s Stuff news site, Sunny Kaushal, chairman of the Dairy and Business Owners Group, said, "This is all 100% theory and 0% substance, there's going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap".
Opposition parties have also weighed in on the issue, with the Act party arguing that reducing the nicotine content in products will impact the poorest the hardest, leading to them simply buying more cigarettes to get the same dose. Verrall responded by stating that decreasing nicotine strengths to the very low levels required by the new laws had been researched and proven to help people quit.
Many also believe that simply banning smoking is not the solution. Despite New Zealand having a decent welfare state, rates of poverty are rising. 18,000 of the country’s children were pushed into poverty in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic alone, and the number is expected to keep rising.
With the highest rates of tobacco use found in the poorest communities, real improvements to society must be made to prevent people from taking up smoking as a coping mechanism in the first place.
It’s also important to improve access to treatment and healthier alternatives, including vaping. In 2017, the Ministry of Health stated that vaping has the potential to help people quit smoking, and contribute to New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal.
In a world first, the UK Government recently announced plans to make vape devices available on prescription via the NHS. Whether other countries will follow suit will likely be based on how successful it is in the UK, but this is something that New Zealand could be keeping a close eye on if they’re serious about vaping playing a key role in their Smokefree initiative.
The likelihood of New Zealand’s new laws successfully pushing people to quit smoking continues to be debated. But, whether or not you agree with the ban, it’s coming for tobacco in New Zealand.