Explained: How New Zealand’s new tobacco law will ban the next generation from smoking

New Zealand has taken another step to achieve its goal of becoming smoke-free by 2025.

On Tuesday (13 December), the country’s Parliament passed an anti-smoking bill that bans the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Bill, which aims to phase out tobacco smoking, will be enforced in 2023.

What does the new anti-smoking law state? How vaping has ramped up in New Zealand? We explain.

Anti-smoking law

Under the new legislation, only 600 stores would be allowed to sell tobacco nationwide instead of about 6,000.

The legal amount of nicotine in tobacco products would also be reduced, reported The Guardian.

As per CNN, a fine of up to NZ$150,000 (about $96,000) would be imposed on those violating the new law.

Associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told lawmakers in Parliament, “There is no good reason to allow a product to be sold that kills half the people that use it”.

“And I can tell you that we will end this in the future, as we pass this legislation”, she added, as per Associated Press (AP).

“It means nicotine will be reduced to non-addictive levels and communities will be free from the proliferation and clustering of retailers who target and sell tobacco products in certain areas,” Verrall was quoted as saying by BBC. 

Stub it Out How New Zealands new tobacco law will ban the next generation from smoking

The amount of nicotine in tobacco products will also be reduced. AFP (Representational Image)

Further, the minister argued that billions of dollars would be saved as tobacco-related health issues could be prevented.

“Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives and the health system will be $5bn better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking, such as numerous types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, amputations”, she was quoted as saying by The Guardian.

New Zealand’s crackdown on smoking

New Zealand already controls the sale of cigarettes for those aged 18 and above.

The country also prohibits smoking in several indoor workplaces and on public transport.

Tobacco packs also have to carry graphic health warnings and cigarettes are sold in standardized packs in the country, AP reported.

In 2018, the country also banned smoking inside vehicles with children.

Smoking affects Māoris more

Among the overall population in the country, smoking rates are higher among indigenous Māori.

Science.org states that the health burden of smoking falls disproportionately on the Māori community, 19.9 per cent of those who smoke.

The life expectancy for Māori men is 73.4 years and for women is 77.1 years.

While for Kiwis of European descent, the life expectancy is 81 years for men and 84.5 for women, as per Science.org.

Andrew Waa, a public health specialist at the University of Otago, Wellington, told Sciene.org, “Tobacco was introduced to the islands by Europeans in the late 1700s, and the lingering impacts of colonialism and racism mean Māori still have fewer of the social, institutional, and economic resources available to help citizens trying to quit smoking”.

To address this inequity, New Zealand has enhanced funds for health services and campaigns, and launched quitting services specifically for Māori and Pacific communities, reported The Guardian.

Decline in smoking, rise in vaping 

New Zealand has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world.

As per data released in November, the number of people smoking daily slipped to eight per cent as compared to 9.4 per cent last year, The Guardian reported.

As many as 56,000 people had quit smoking over the past year in the country.

Although smoking figures are declining in New Zealand, vaping is on the rise.

Stub it Out How New Zealands new tobacco law will ban the next generation from smoking

More and more people are vaping in New Zealand. AP File Photo

The new law, which regulates smoking, will not restrict vape sales.

Around 8.3 per cent of adults vape daily in New Zealand, an increase from 6.2 per cent in 2021, the data released in November revealed.

Citing New Zealand Health Survey, The Conversation reported that the number of Kiwis who vape daily in the age group of 15-17 has tripled in two years, from two per cent in 2018-19 to six per cent in 2020-21.

In the 18 to 24 age group, daily vaping has surged from five per cent to 15 per cent.

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Reactions on outlawing smoking

New Zealand’s libertarian ACT party has opposed the anti-smoking bill, saying many small retailers such as corner stores would lose business as they would not be able to sell cigarettes.

“We stand opposed to this bill because it’s a bad bill and its bad policy, its that straightforward and simple,” Brooke van Velden, ACT’s deputy leader, said as per AP.

“There won’t be better outcomes for New Zealanders”, she added.

Flagging concern about the cropping up of a large black market, Velden said the “gradual ban” amounted to “nanny-state prohibition”, reported AP.

Not everyone is unhappy though.

Last year, when the country announced it would outlaw smoking for the next generation, Dr Natalie Walker, director of the Centre for Addiction Research at University of Auckland had told The Guardian, “New Zealand once again leads the world – this time with a cutting-edge smoke-free 2025 implementation plan – it’s truly a game changer”.

With inputs from agencies

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