New Zealand has vowed to make the country tobacco-free by implementing a new regulation that forbids people born after 2008 from ever obtaining cigarettes legally.
The law still needs to pass several legislative rounds but since the ruling Labor Party holds a single-party majority in parliament the new law will probably take effect by next year.
The New Zealand Ministry of Health estimates that smoking generates around 4,500 to 5,000 casualties per year or 15 percent of all deaths in New Zealand.
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“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes 1 in 4 cancers,” Dr. Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand’s Food Safety Minister and sponsor of the law argued adding that, “Smoking-related harm is particularly prevalent in our Maori, Pacific, and low-income communities,” the Washington Examiner reported.
“You meet, every day, someone facing the misery caused by tobacco,” Verrall told The Associated Press (AP). “The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”
But not for long according to Varrell, who explained that the age barrier will be raised each year by one year, theoretically eradicating tobacco from New Zealand eighty years from now.
“We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offense 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,” Verrall told Deseret News. But first, the goal is to reduce the number of smokers to 5 percent of New Zealand’s population by 2025.
The proposed bill was met with applause and booing alike. “It will help people quit or switch to less harmful products, and make it much less likely that young people get addicted to nicotine,” said Prof Janet Hook from the University of Otago.
“I reckon it’s a good move, really,” one man told Reuters news agency. “Because right now there’s a lot of young kids walking around with smokes in their mouth. Public is asking how they’re getting these smokes,” the man said. “And it’s also good for myself too because I can save more money.”
The number of retailers licensed to sell tobacco and associated wares will also be drastically downsized to under 500 from the current number of roughly 8,000, administrators say. Furthermore, those cigarettes that remain available will have extremely low nicotine dosages.
“We all want a smoke-free New Zealand, but this is going to hugely impact small businesses,” said Sunny Kaushal, chairman of the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for local convenience stores. “It should not be done so it is destroying dairies, lives, and families in the process. It’s not the way.” Kaushal said, according to the Associated Press, adding that he thought that, “this is being driven by academics.”
“This is all 100% theory and 0% substance,” Kaushal told New Zealand’s Stuff news site. Pointing out that a prohibition will lead to the erection of mafia-style businesses. “There’s going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap,” the BBC reported.
Indeed, New Zealand officials acknowledged that “customs will need more resources to enforce border control.”
Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall speaks during a media opportunity at Mainfreight on October 14, 2021, in Wellington, New Zealand. Verrall has vowed to ban the sale of tobacco to the next generation in an attempt to phase out smoking eventually. (Image: HAGEN HOPKINS/Getty Images)
“We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Dr. Verrall explained. “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.”
The minister is probably referring to Maori communities where smoking is still a way of life for almost a third of the adult population.
Although vaping as an alternative to cigarettes is not entirely harmless, the government still considers it less lethal, and vaping might provide a gateway to quitting smoking. Vaping is therefore still legal albeit only accessible for people aged 18 and up.