New Zealand will ban the sale of tobacco to its next generation, in a bid to eventually phase out smoking. Anyone born after 2008 will not be able to buy cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime. The proposal, expected to become law next year, would raise the smoking age year by year until it covers the entire population.
"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," 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 authorized sellers, followed by reduced nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of the "smoke-free" generation from 2027.
The plan has come under criticism from some parties – the Act party has argued that reducing the nicotine in products will hit lower-income people hardest, who will have to buy more cigarettes and smoke more to access the same dose. Verrall said the very low levels required by the laws had been researched and proven to help people quit.
Banning tobacco sales, despite the clear benefits to public health, has been a virtual nonstarter around the world, with arguments often focussing on civil liberties and fears of increased smuggling. In 2010, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan prohibited the sale of tobacco products, only to suspend the restrictions last year amid worries that cigarette traffickers would bring in the coronavirus.