WELLINGTON (REUTERS) - New Zealand on Thursday (Dec 9) said it will ban young people from buying cigarettes for life, one of the toughest approaches in the world to curbing smoking deaths as part of a wider plan that focuses on the disproportionate impact on its indigenous Maori population.
New Zealand is already one of 17 countries where plain cigarette packaging is compulsory. It also bans sales to anyone under 18, but it says those measures are not enough to reach its goal of a national adult smoking rate of less than 5 per cent by 2025.
A lifetime ban
New Zealand plans to make it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone aged 14 and under from 2027. The ban will remain in place for the rest of the person's life. That means a person aged 60 in 2073 will be banned from buying cigarettes, while a person aged 61 would be allowed to do so.
Why 14 and under?
New Zealand health authorities say smokers typically take up the habit during their youth, with four in five or about 80 per cent of New Zealanders who smoke beginning by age 18 and 96 per cent by age 25. By stopping a generation from taking up smoking, they hope to avoid about 5,000 preventable deaths a year.
What other changes are planned?
Under the proposed legislation, which the government plans to bring into law by the end of next year, it will first limit the number of stores that can sell cigarettes from 2024. It will then lower the level of nicotine - the most addictive ingredient - in cigarettes from 2025, to make them easier to quit. Finally, it will bring in the "smoke-free" generation from 2027.
How will the rules be enforced?
The New Zealand authorities have not said how they plan to police the ban, nor which retailers would be barred from selling tobacco products. More detail is expected to be provided when legislation is brought before Parliament next year.
Will New Zealand be the world's toughest anti-tobacco jurisdiction?
Not quite. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan banned cigarette sales outright in 2010, although it lifted the ban temporarily in 2020 to stop black market imports from India during a Covid-19 border closure, Al-Jazeera reported.
What happens next?
A Maori task force involving tobacco control and public health experts will consult on the plan, which the New Zealand government wants to make law by the end of 2022. The government says it wants to introduce the changes in phases to lessen the economic shock on retailers and give people with mental health issues - a group with far higher smoking rates - time to manage the change.