New Zealand has announced that it is planning to ban the sale of tobacco to the next generation, in a bid to make the country smoke free by 2025.
Jacinda Ardern’s government will slash the number of retailers authorised to sell tobacco, as well as cut down nicotine levels in all products. It will also make it harder for young people to buy cigarettes.
“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,” associate minister of health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
According to government figures, at least 11.6 per cent of all New Zealanders aged over 15 smoke. This figure increases to 29 per cent among indigenous Maori adults.
The decision represents one the toughest approaches in the world to curbing smoking deaths, focusing on the disproportionate impact on the Maori population.
“If nothing changes, it would be decades till Maori smoking rates fall below 5 per cent, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind,” Ms Verall said.
The legislation is set to be introduced into parliament next year in June after consultation with a Maori health task force.
The smoking restrictions would then be rolled out from 2024.
Initially, the number of authorised sellers would be reduced, followed by cutting down on nicotine requirements in 2025 to reduce the national smoking rate to 5 per cent and eventually the creation of a “smoke-free” generation from 2027.
However, no restrictions will be applicable to vapes.
New Zealand reports at least 5,000 smoking-related deaths a year, making it the Pacific country’s top cause of preventable death. Four in five smokers started smoking before 18, the country’s government said.
Doctors and health authorities have welcomed the proposal to crackdown on cigarettes.
“Cigarette smoking kills 14 New Zealanders every day and two out of three smokers will die as a result of smoking,” Alistair Humphrey, chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, said in a statement.
“This action plan offers some hope of realising our 2025 Smokefree Aotearoa goal, and keeping our tamariki [Maori children] smoke-free,” he added.
A lobby group for local convenience stores, known as dairies, however, severely attacked the measures. It said the government’s plan would destroy businesses.
The group raised concerns about a potentially larger black market for cigarettes.
“This is all 100 per cent theory and zero per cent substance. There’s going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap with ciggie houses alongside tinnie houses,” the group’s chairman, Sunny Kaushal, told New Zealand-based news portal Stuff.
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