New Zealand to ban cigarette sales to youth in tough anti-tobacco crackdown

Dec 9, 2021: In a brand new bid to curb tobacco use, New Zealand aims to ban young people from buying cigarettes in their lifetime in the world’s toughest crackdown on the tobacco industry.

Health authorities in the country argue that other efforts to quit smoking are taking too long. In 2027, people aged 14 and under will never be allowed to buy cigarettes in the 5 million Pacific nation, which is part of a proposal on Thursday to ban tobacco and all products containing nicotine. Lowering the level will also stop the number of authorized retailers.

“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,” New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.

“If nothing changes, it would be decades till Mori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind.”

Currently, 11.6% of all New Zealanders over the age of 15 smoke, a figure that rises to 29% among local Maori adults, according to government figures. The government will consult a Maori health task force in the coming months before legislating in parliament in June next year with the aim of making it a law by the end of 2022.

Restrictions will then be implemented in phases from 2024, beginning with a sharp decline in the number of authorized sellers, followed by a reduction in nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of a “smoke-free” generation by 2027.

The package of measures will make New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry one of the most restrictive in the world, right behind Bhutan, where there is a complete ban on the sale of cigarettes.

New Zealand’s neighbor Australia was the first country in the world to make plane packaging of cigarettes mandatory in 2012. The New Zealand government says that although current measures such as tariffs on simple packaging and sales have reduced tobacco consumption, drastic measures are needed to achieve its target of less than 5% of the population who smoke daily by 2025.

The government said the new rules would halve the smoking rate in the country in at least 10 years after they take effect.

Smoking kills about 5,000 people each year in New Zealand, making it one of the leading causes of preventable death in the country. The country’s government says four out of five smokers start before the age of 18.

Health officials welcomed the crackdown, while retailers expressed concern about the impact on their businesses and warned of a black market. The government did not provide details on how the new laws would be implemented or whether they would apply to newcomers to the country.

“Cigarette smoking kills 14 New Zealanders every day and two out of three smokers will die as a result of smoking,” said New Zealand Medical Association chair Alistair Humphrey in a statement.

“This action plan offers some hope of realising our 2025 Smokefree Aotearoa goal, and keeping our tamariki (Maori children) smokefree.”

However, the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for local convenience stores known as Dairy in New Zealand, said that while it has supported a smoking-free country, the government’s plans will destroy many businesses.

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