New Zealand's smoking ban one year on - what new changes could mean for similar plans in the UK

Protestors look on during an anti-tobacco protest at Parliament on December 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. The incoming National Party-led government led by Christopher Luxon has committed to axing a world-first tobacco law that would gradually ban sales to all of its citizens (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)Protestors look on during an anti-tobacco protest at Parliament on December 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. The incoming National Party-led government led by Christopher Luxon has committed to axing a world-first tobacco law that would gradually ban sales to all of its citizens (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Protestors look on during an anti-tobacco protest at Parliament on December 13, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand. The incoming National Party-led government led by Christopher Luxon has committed to axing a world-first tobacco law that would gradually ban sales to all of its citizens (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Why has New Zealand's new government reversed anti-smoking policies less than a year on?

It's a year since New Zealand's former liberal government announced the first steps it would take to move towards a smoke-free nation. On December 13, 2022, the country became the first in the world to outlaw smoking for the next generation. But are these plans already being scrapped after 12 months?

The policy from last year effectively meant that anyone born on or after January 1, 2009 would never be able to buy tobacco in New Zealand. But things haven't been plain sailing since then as former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern resigned in January 2023 and an election in October has ushered in big changes.

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The Labour Party - which Ardern represented - lost out to the centre-right National Party which is now the largest in New Zealand's parliament and led by Christopher Luxon. And Luxon has already announced big plans.

The leader of the new government has said he will scrap the anti-smoking ban to help pay for tax cuts - a move which some experts say will cost thousands of lives and destroy the Māori community which has higher smoking rates.

The new finance minister, Nicola Willis said: “Coming back to those extra sources of revenue and other savings areas that will help us to fund the tax reduction, we have to remember that the changes to the smoke-free legislation had a significant impact on the Government books – with about $1bn there.” The smoking ban's measures will now be axed before March 2024. The new proposals have disappointed smoking-cessation advocates and groups, who say that decades of progress could be rolled back. An anti-tobacco protest also took place on December 13, 2023 - the one-year anniversary of when the initial ban was announced.

Luxon has also commented that the reversal would prevent a hidden tobacco market from cropping up and stop shops from being targeted for crime.

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And the 2022 policy also had implications in the UK. The initial ban provided a blueprint that the Conservatives and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used to announce their own plans in Manchester in October. So will things now be reversed in the UK too?

Rishi Sunak described a DUP proposal for an East-West Council as having 'considerable merit; and praised Sir Jeffrey’s conference speech. If this wasn’t choreography, it was taking on that appearance. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA WireRishi Sunak described a DUP proposal for an East-West Council as having 'considerable merit; and praised Sir Jeffrey’s conference speech. If this wasn’t choreography, it was taking on that appearance. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Rishi Sunak described a DUP proposal for an East-West Council as having 'considerable merit; and praised Sir Jeffrey’s conference speech. If this wasn’t choreography, it was taking on that appearance. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

According to the UK PM, that won't be happening. When asked about the developments in Wellington, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said: "No, our position remains unchanged. We are committed to that."

In a turn of events, this could mean that the UK soon has the toughest anti-smoking laws in the world. But just as support for other policies has created divisions in the Conservative Party, the smoking ban is no different.

Some have called it "illiberal", compared it to "creeping prohibition", and said it goes against Conservative values. Former prime minister Liz Truss is among those set to vote against the move when it goes to a free vote in the Commons. And with a general election looming ever closer, it would hardly be a big surprise to see things change here in 2024.

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