New Zealand's generational tobacco ban moves ahead in Parliament
The government of New Zealand, headed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, is planning to become the first smoke-free country in the world through a new Parliament bill that would make tobacco illegal for the next generation.
The bill had its first reading at the New Zealand Parliament in July 2022 with, according to The Guardian, near-universal cross-party support.
According to CNN, Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall declared that “people aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”
The law is part of a larger initiative called Smokefree 2025, which aims to reduce smoking to less than 5% within all population groups. Pictured: Auckland, the capital of New Zealand.
According to Al Jazeera, smoking has dropped to 10% among New Zealand’s European-descended population. However, its prevalence in Indigenous groups is much higher: 28% among the Maori and 18% for Pacific people.
“Smoking kills approximately 4,500 to 5,000 people every year in New Zealand – that is around 12 to 13 deaths every day due to smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke”, declared Population Health and Prevention Group Manager Jane Chambers in a statement from the Ministry of Health.
The BBC reports that the initiative would also reduce the number of legal tobacco sellers from around 8,000 to under 500. As a result, cigarettes would disappear from supermarkets and convenience stores.
According to Reuters, these measures would make New Zealand's tobacco trade of the most restricted in the world, just behind the small Kingdom of Bhutan where cigarette sales are forbidden.
Although New Zealand's novel approach seems extreme, it's hardly the only country trying to reduce smoking among its population. England has set itself to be a smoke-free country by 2030 and Scotland by 2034.
Canada and Sweden are other nations trying to lower their number of smokers to at least less than 5% of their population.
New Zealand's latest restrictions on tobacco have received quite a lot of criticism. Imperial Brands, one of the leading tobacco groups in the local market, raised concerns that prohibition might create a black market.
“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling”, acknowledged the government in its proposal, as quoted by The Guardian.
Another concern is how the tobacco ban will affect small businesses in New Zealand. This is particularly worrying after two years of being hit by the consequences of Covid-19.
Reuters highlights that the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for convenience stores in New Zealand, stated that while it supported a smoke-free country, the government's plan would destroy many businesses.
The government has not yet defined many details, such as how it would enforce the restriction on tobacco and if it applies to visitors or tourists in New Zealand. It hopes Parliament can define those during the discussion of the bill.
Will these measures do more harm than good? It's hard to say at this stage, but surely many will draw comparisons to another well-intentioned crusade against vice: Prohibition in the United States. Only time will tell if New Zealand will have the same problems as the U.S.