New Zealand has scrapped its historic world-first generational smoking ban to help pay for tax cuts. Needless to say, health experts are not impressed.
In 2022, New Zealand’s previous administration under Jacinda Ardern passed pioneering legislation that would have prevented anyone born after January 2009 from purchasing tobacco products for the entirety of their lives. The idea was to create a “smoke-free generation,” preventing thousands of smoking-related deaths and saving the healthcare system billions of dollars.
Now, however, the country’s new right-wing coalition government has U-turned on the plan. On Saturday, the new finance minister Nicola Willis said the plan will be axed because they need revenue from cigarette sales to fund the coalition’s tax cuts.
Finances were cited as the prime reason for the policy reversal. Political parties pledged numerous tax cuts during the election this year, but this vote-winning promise requires money in the country's coffers. The new government believes that taxation of tobacco products could help fill this gap in bank balance.
A recent study showed that the revolutionary smoke-free regulations had the potential to save $1.3 billion in health system costs over the next 20 years, not to mention thousands of human lives. However, the tobacco industry reportedly brings in nearly $2 billion in tax revenue to New Zealand each year.
“What you saw in the pre-election fiscal update was the Treasury assessed the effect of drastically reducing the number of shops that could sell tobacco products, denicotising those products and introducing a range of restrictions would significantly reduce revenue to the Crown,” Willis told Newshub Nation over the weekend.
Health experts have strongly criticized the change of plan, describing it as “extremely disappointing”.
“This is major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry – whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” Professor Boyd Swinburn, co-chair of the Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), said in a statement.
HCA co-chair Professor Lisa Te Morenga added that the move will potentially cost thousands of lives and have the greatest impact on Māori people who have the highest rates of smoking (19 percent). She added that the new coalition government has also expressed interest in dismantling the Te Aka Whai Ora, the Māori Health Authority.
"Tax cuts for the rich at the cost of the lives of our tamariki [children] is just vile," Te Morenga told Newshub.