New Zealand has announced plans to make it legally impossible for the next generation of adults to purchase tobacco products as part of a drive to create a smoke-free country by 2025. Expected to come into force next year, the new legislation will see the legal smoking age increase annually, so that those born after 2008 will never be allowed to buy cigarettes in their lifetime.
Announcing the measure, health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall explained that “smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers.”
“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.”
In addition to periodically raising the legal smoking age, the new legislation will drastically restrict the amount of nicotine that cigarettes can contain, while reducing the number of outlets that are allowed to sell tobacco products. Currently, some 8,000 stores across New Zealand are licensed to sell cigarettes, yet this figure is expected to fall to below 500 by the time the new law comes into full effect.
“Smoking-related harm is particularly prevalent in our Māori, Pacific, and low-income communities,” added Verrall, which is why the government has committed to ensuring there is “Māori leadership and decision-making across all levels of the action plan.” According to The Guardian, around 29 percent of the Māori population are daily smokers, compared to just 12 percent of the overall population of New Zealand.
“We’re on track for the New Zealand European population [to become smoke-free],” said Verrall. “The issue is, though, if we don’t change what we’re doing, we won’t make it for Māori – and that’s [what] the plan is really focused on.” The proposals include extra support to help current smokers quit, with a particular focus on Indigenous communities.
While some critics have argued that the move may trigger an increase in the use of vaping products – which are not affected by the new law – or lead to a black market for cigarettes, public health experts have largely welcomed the proposal.
For example, Professor Janet Hoek from the University of Otago in Wellington explained in an email sent to IFLScience that “the World Health Organization has estimated that smoking will cause a billion deaths this century. New Zealand’s plan will have global implications that change this trajectory and make ending the smoking pandemic a realistic prospect.”
Meanwhile, Chris Bullen, Professor of Public Health at the University of Auckland, said that the new measure “could just be the single most significant step we take as a nation to reducing preventable death and disease and reducing health inequities in the next few years.”