New Zealand has announced a suite of proposals which would gradually increase the legal age of smoking over time in an effort to make the nation smoke-free by 2025.
Also under consideration was a significant reduction in the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, setting a minimum price for tobacco, and restricting the locations where tobacco and cigarettes can be sold.
“We need a new approach if the nation wants to reach its goal,” Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said, announcing the changes. “About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, the “best way” to achieve a “smoke-free future” is to prevent people from ever starting to smoke. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”
“Over 75 percent of smokers have tried to quit but smoking is primarily driven by addiction. This makes quitting extremely difficult even though most smokers want to do so. We must provide people with better support in their decisions to stop smoking and in their quit journeys” explained Dr. Verrall.
The proposals were welcomed by a number of public health organisations. “This proposal goes beyond assisting people to quit,” Cancer Society chief executive Lucy Elwood said in a statement. She noted that the number of tobacco retailers was four times higher in low-income communities, where smoking rates were highest.
“These glaring inequities are why we need to protect future generations from the harms of tobacco,” Elwood said. “Tobacco is the most harmful consumer product in history and needs to be phased out.”
But the plans also faced criticism for potential unintended consequences and the possibility of an expanded black market for tobacco.
The proposals have been criticised by right-wing political party ACT, who said one of the restrictions being looked at – lowering the amount of nicotine in cigarettes – could end up negatively affecting working-class smokers as they would need to buy more cigarettes in order to get the same hit.
New Zealand has a population of about five million people and it’s estimated that about 500,000, or one in 10 smoke daily. Smoking accounts for one in four cancer deaths in New Zealand with Māori people worst affected. Māori women have the country’s highest smoking rates, with about 30% smoking daily. Cancer is the leading cause of death for Māori women and the second leading cause for Māori men.