New Zealand on Thursday unveiled a plan to eventually ban all cigarette sales in the country, a decades-long effort unique in the world to prevent young people from starting to smoke.
The proposed legislation, which is expected to become law next year, would leave current smokers free to continue purchasing cigarettes. But it would gradually increase the age of smoking, from year to year, to cover the entire population.
From 2023, anyone under the age of 15 would be banned for life from buying cigarettes. So, for example, in 2050, people aged 42 and over could still buy tobacco products, but younger people could not.
“We want to make sure that young people never start smoking, so we are going to criminalize the sale or supply of smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of young people,” Dr Ayesha Verrall, deputy health minister of the United Kingdom, said Thursday. country. âPeople aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally buy tobacco. “
The legislation was part of several proposals announced Thursday that aim to reduce New Zealand’s smoking levels across all ethnic groups, including its indigenous Maori and Pacific Islander citizens, to below 5% by 2025. Currently , the rate is slightly less than 10%.
New Zealand first announced this target in 2011. Since then, it has steadily increased the price of cigarettes, one of the highest in the world. A pack in New Zealand costs around NZ $ 30, or just over $ 20, just behind neighboring Australia, where wages are considerably higher.
Dr Verrall said the government has no plans to raise prices beyond that point. âWe have already seen the full impact of the excise tax increases,â she said. âGoing further will not help people quit smoking. This will only further punish smokers who have difficulty quitting. “
The ban on tobacco sales, despite the obvious public health benefits, has been a virtual failure around the world, with arguments often centered on civil liberties and fears of increased smuggling. In 2010, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan banned the sale of tobacco products, only to suspend restrictions last year, fearing that cigarette traffickers could introduce the coronavirus.
As New Zealand unveiled its proposal, the government acknowledged the possible effects on the black market, which currently accounts for at least 10 percent of tobacco sales in the country.
He said smuggling of tobacco products into New Zealand, especially by organized crime groups, had increased. “The changes proposed in this document may contribute to this problem,” notes the government’s proposal.
But Dr Robert Beaglehole, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Auckland, said there are potential solutions. âWe can deal with it, if we only scan every container entering the country, which we don’t,â he said. âThe technology is there.
Since the New Zealand government began targeting smoking, rates have fallen well below the global average: 9.4% of New Zealanders currently smoke, up from 18 percent in 2008. About 14% of people in the United States smoke, and about 20 percent worldwide.
The rates are not uniform among the New Zealand population. While the government is likely to meet its target for white New Zealanders by 2025, it should adjust its plans to sufficiently reduce smoking rates among Maori and Pacific Island communities, Dr Verrall said.
In addition to phasing out the sale of cigarettes, the proposed legislation would increase funding for addiction services, limit where cigarettes can be sold, and reduce the amount of nicotine in cigarettes. Vaping products, which the government has adopted as a safer alternative, would not be affected by the law.
The proposal did not indicate how the sales ban would be applied.
The New Zealand government has an absolute majority in parliament, so it does not need the support of any coalition partner to make proposals into law.
Janet Hoek, a public health expert at the University of Otago, said the ban for future generations would help maintain the country’s gains.
âOnce we reach the Smoke Free 2025 goal and reduce the prevalence of smoking, we want to make sure that is also what the future looks like,â she said. The progressive ban on the sale of cigarettes is “a way to ensure that this objective, once achieved, is maintained,” she added.
Dr Hoek said she hopes New Zealand’s plans will inspire other countries to pass such ambitious legislation, especially in light of World Health Organization estimates that one billion people will die of smoking-related causes during this century.
“Now that New Zealand has taken this step, I expect many other countries to follow suit,” she said. “It will be something that starts in New Zealand but really has global implications.”