New Zealand hopes lifetime smoking ban for youth will end habit

Plan target is to have less than 5 per cent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025

A smoker in Auckland on Thursday, where New Zealand's government believes it has come up with a unique plan to end tobacco smoking. AP
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New Zealand believes it has come up with a unique plan to end tobacco smoking – a lifetime ban for those aged 14 or younger.

Under a new law announced on Thursday by the government, which it hopes to pass next year, the minimum age to buy cigarettes will keep rising year after year.

It means, in theory, that 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could buy cigarettes only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old.

In practice, officials hope smoking will fade away decades before then. The plan sets a goal of having less than 5 per cent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025.

Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of shops that can sell them. The changes would be brought in over time to help retailers to adjust.

Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth would not have an effect for a few years.

In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand’s associate health minister, Dr Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, said her work at a public hospital in Wellington involved telling several smokers they had developed cancer.

“You meet, every day, someone facing the misery caused by tobacco,” Dr Verrall said. ”The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”

Higher rates among Indigenous Maori

Smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 per cent of adults now smoking and 9 per cent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Maori is much higher at 22 per cent. Under the government’s plan, a task force would be created to help reduce smoking among Maori.

Big tax increases have been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they are not set even higher.

“We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Dr Verrall said. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”

She said the tax measures tend to place a higher burden on lower-income people, who are more likely to smoke.

The new law would not affect vaping. Dr Verrall said that tobacco smoking is far more harmful and is a leading cause of preventable deaths in New Zealand, killing up to 5,000 people each year.

“We think vaping’s a really appropriate quit tool,” she said.

Updated: December 09, 2021, 8:55 AM