New Zealand plans to ban young people from buying cigarettes in their lifetime as part of one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry, arguing that further efforts to stop smoking smoking took too long.
People under the age of 14 in 2027 will never be able to buy five million cigarettes in the Pacific, part of the proposals unveiled on Thursday that will also cut the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco and reduce nicotine levels in all countries.
“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,” New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
“If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind.”
Currently, 11.6% of all New Zealanders aged over 15 smoke, a proportion that rises to 29% among indigenous Maori adults, according to government figures.
The government will consult with a Maori health task force in the coming months before introducing legislation into parliament in June next year, with the aim of making it law by the end of 2022.
The restrictions would then be rolled out in stages from 2024, beginning with a sharp reduction in the number of authorised sellers, followed by reduced nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of the “smoke-free” generation from 2027.
The package of measures will make New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry one of the most restricted in the world, just behind Bhutan where cigarette sales are banned outright. New Zealand’s neighbour Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes in 2012.
The New Zealand government said while existing measures like plain packaging and levies on sales had slowed tobacco consumption, the tougher steps were necessary to achieve its goal of fewer than 5% of the population smoking daily by 2025.
Health authorities welcomed the crackdown, while retailers expressed concern about the impact on their businesses and warned of the emergence of a black market.