New Zealand smoking ban: cigarettes and tobacco under ‘lifetime ban’ for future generation - new law explained

Dr Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health, said that the decision represents a ‘historic day for the health of our people’

In an effort to phase out smoking in the country, New Zealand has announced a lifetime ban of the sale of tobacco to its next generation, a move which has not been tried anywhere else in the world.

The plan is to ensure that “young people never start smoking” and to reduce the smoking population to less than 5% by 2025, with a wider aim of eliminating smoking altogether.

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This is everything you need to know.

Why is New Zealand banning smoking?

In the Smokefree Aotearoa Action Plan, it’s said that smoking is “a leading cause of preventable death and disease in New Zealand, killing approximately 4,5000 - 5,000 people per year (equivalent to about 15% of all deaths in 2019) and contributing to ongoing health inequity for Māori and Pacific peoples”.

While New Zealand’s daily smoking rates have been decreasing over time, rates for the  Māori and Pacific populations are far higher.

The aim is to have New Zealand smoke free from 2025 (Photo: KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images)

Dr Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health and creator of the plan, said: “While smoking rates are heading in the right direction, we need to do more, faster to reach our goal.

“If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, Verrall said: “You meet, every day, facing the misery caused by tobacco. The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”

How will the ban be implemented?

Verrall said that the Government has “already seen the full impact of excise tax increases” and that it recognises “that going further will not help people quit, it will only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit”.

She continued: “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.

“People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.

“We are also reducing the appeal, addictiveness and availability of smoked tobacco products.

“New laws will mean only smoked tobacco products containing very low-levels of nicotine can be sold, with a significant reduction in the number of shops who can sell them.”

Dr Ayesha Verrall called the ban ‘a historic day for the health of our people’ (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

The rising age limit for the purchase of tobacco products means that, in theory, 65 years after the new law takes effect, shoppers looking to buy cigarettes will have to prove that they are at least 80 years old.

Verrall described the move as “a historic day for the health of our people”.

According to officials, the number of shops that will be authorised to sell cigarettes will be reduced to under 500, from the 8,000 that currently sell them. The plan is also to remove them from supermarkets and corner shops.

Vapes will not be affected by the new plan, with Verrall calling them a “really appropriate quit tool” for those trying to stop smoking.

In New Zealand, the sale of vapes and vaping products is restricted to those over the age of 18, and is banned in schools. Verrall acknowledged the evidence which showed an increase in youth vaping, something that she said she is following “really closely”.

When will this plan come into effect?

Verrall said that the changes “will not come into effect immediately” in order to give retailers the appropriate amount of time to transition to a new business model.

Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the ban for youth won’t have a real impact for a few years.

Those in New Zealand aged 14 and under at the time the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The current plan is for New Zealand to become smoke free by 2025, with the action plan described as “a government priority”.

The proposed timeline goes as such:

  • December 2021: release action plan
  • December 2021: issue drafting instructions (tranche one)
  • February 2022: issue drafting instructions (tranche two)
  • June 2022: introduce Amendment Bill
  • December 2022: legislation in place
  • 2024: implement retail reduction
  • 2025: implement low nicotine
  • 2027: implement smokefree generation 

What has the response been like?

Public health experts have welcomed the news, praising the New Zealand Government for its action plan.

Dr Natalie Walker, director of the Centre for Addiction Research at University of Auckland welcomed the news.

She said: “New Zealand once again leads the world - this time with a cutting-edge smokefree 2025 implementation plan - it’s truly a game changer.”

Public Health Professor, Chris Bullen, said that, from a health perspective, “all [his] wishes have come true”.

However, not everyone is pleased with the news - Sunny Kaushal, who chairs the Dairy and Business Owners Group, said: “We all want a smoke-free New Zealand.

While health officials have welcomed the news, not everyone is happy with the announcement (Photo: JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images)

“But this is going to hugely impact small businesses. It should not be done so it is destroying dairies, lives and families in the process.

“It’s not the way.”

Kaushal also said that the tax increases on tobacco has already created an underground black market which is being exploited by gangs, something that would only be made worse under the new law.

The New Zealand Government addressed these concerns regarding a tobacco black market in its initial proposals, stating: “Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling.

“The changes proposed in this document may contribute to this problem. Increased availability of illicit tobacco undermines the Smokefree 2025 goal.”

What is the Smokefree taskforce?

A Smokefree taskforce has been appointed to ensure that the Ministry of Health, government and tobacco control sector remain accountable to the actions in the plan.

This will be done through evaluation, monitoring and reporting.

The taskforce will be chaired by Dame Tariana Turia DNZM, with the other members made up of former Te Tai Tokerau MP, Hone Harawira; Research Evaluation Consultancy Director, Nan Wehipeihana; Executive Director of Arai Te Uru Whare Hauora, Donna Matahaere-Atariki MNZM; and Hāpai Te Hauora Chief Executive Officer, Selah Hart.

The New Zealand government explained that each member of the taskforce is “a leader in advancing health for Māori and offers a unique blend of expertise including knowledge of tobacco control and the public health sector”.

Additionally, a Pacific Advisory Group will also be stood up in 2022.

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