The New Zealand government plans to ban young people from ever buying cigarettes in their lifetime in one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry, arguing that other efforts to extinguish smoking were taking too long.
People aged 14 in 2027, when the law is scheduled to come into effect, will never be allowed to legally purchase cigarettes in the Pacific country of five million, while the level of nicotine in all cigarettes on sale will be reduced.
“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,” said New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall in a statement.
The government will consult with a Maori health task force in the coming months before introducing legislation into parliament in June next year, with the aim of making it law by the end of 2022.
That would make New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry one of the most restricted in the world, just behind Bhutan where cigarette sales are banned outright. New Zealand’s neighbour Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes in 2012.
New Zealand is already one of 17 countries where plain cigarette packaging is compulsory. It also bans sales to anyone under 18, but it says those measures are not enough to reach its goal of a national adult smoking rate of less than 5 per cent by 2025.
How it will work
A LIFETIME BAN
New Zealand plans to make it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone aged 14 and under from 2027. The ban will remain in place for the rest of the person’s life. That means a person aged 60 in 2073 will be banned from buying cigarettes, while a person aged 61 would be allowed to do so.
WHY 14 AND UNDER?
New Zealand health authorities say smokers typically take up the habit during youth, with four in five New Zealanders who smoke beginning by age 18 and 96 per cent by age 25. By stopping a generation from taking up smoking, they hope to avoid about 5000 preventable deaths a year.
WHAT OTHER CHANGES ARE PLANNED?
Under the proposed legislation, which the government plans to bring into law by the end of next year, it will first limit the number of stores that can sell cigarettes from 2024. It will then lower the level of nicotine – the most addictive ingredient – in cigarettes from 2025, to make them easier to quit. Finally, it will bring in the “smoke-free” generation from 2027.
HOW WILL THE RULES BE ENFORCED?
The New Zealand authorities have not said how they plan to police the ban, nor which retailers would be barred from selling tobacco products. More detail is expected to be provided when legislation is brought before parliament next year.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
A Maori taskforce involving tobacco control and public health experts will consult on the plan, which the New Zealand government wants to make law by the end of 2022. The government says it wants to introduce the changes in phases to lessen the economic shock on retailers and give people with mental health issues – a group with far higher smoking rates – time to manage the change.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney; editing by Jane Wardell)