New Zealand's Ambitious Smoking Ban Is No More

Nation's new government has nixed progressively rising smoking age, other anti-smoking measures
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2023 7:29 AM CST
Health Experts 'Appalled' at Abrupt 180 on NZ Smoking Ban
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Khanchit Khirisutchalual)

New Zealand's ambitious plan to eventually turn the nation smoke-free has itself gone up in smoke. The legislation passed in late 2022 mandated a progressively increasing smoking age that would effectively mean that anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, would never be able to legally light up. Now, however, the country's new government has decided to nix that ban—a move that public health experts say will prove "catastrophic," particularly for the Indigenous Maori people, per the Guardian.

In addition to the generational ban, other amendments slashed by the National Party's coalition government with the populist New Zealand First and libertarian ACT parties included one that drastically cut down on the number of stores legally allowed to sell tobacco products, as well as one that significantly decreased the amount of nicotine in said products. The law, which was set to go into effect in July 2024, had been put into place to help cut down on deaths tied to smoking and to save New Zealand's health system billions of dollars.

But the nation's new prime minister, Christopher Luxon of the conservative National Party, says prohibiting smoking would create "an opportunity for a black market to emerge, which would be largely untaxed," reports Deutsche Welle. Plus, "to say that ... you can concentrate all that distribution [of cigarettes] in a few shops and you have one smokeshop in one small town ... you can't not tell me they would be a massive target for ... crime," Luxon told Radio New Zealand.

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Finance Minister Nicola Willis says the revenue from the cigarette sales will be put toward paying for the new government's tax cuts, although Luxon insists that wasn't the prime motivation behind reversing the legislation. Health experts, meanwhile, are decrying what the BBC calls the government's "shock reversal," as the law had been expected to save up to 5,000 lives per year. "Most health groups in New Zealand are appalled by what the government's done and are calling on them to backtrack," says professor Richard Edwards, a tobacco control scientist and public health expert at the University of Otago. (More New Zealand stories.)

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