In one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry, New Zealand plans to prohibit young people from ever purchasing cigarettes in their lifetime, arguing that other efforts to eliminate smoking were taking too long.
People aged 14 and under will never be allowed to buy cigarettes in the Pacific country of 5 million in 2027, according to proposals unveiled on Thursday. The proposals also limit the number of retailers authorized to sell tobacco and reduce nicotine levels in all products.
“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,” New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
“If nothing changes, it would be decades till Maori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind,” Verrall added.
According to government statistics, 11.6 percent of all New Zealanders over the age of 15 smoke, with indigenous Maori adults smoking at a rate of 29 percent.
In the coming months, the government will consult with a Maori health task force before introducing legislation into parliament in June next year, with the goal of making it law by the end of 2022.
The restrictions would then be phased in beginning in 2024, with a sharp reduction in the number of authorized sellers, followed by lower nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of a “smoke-free” generation beginning in 2027.
The measures will make New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry one of the most restricted in the world, trailing only Bhutan, where cigarette sales are completely prohibited. Australia, New Zealand’s neighbor, was the first country in the world to require plain packaging of cigarettes in 2012.
While existing measures such as plain packaging and sales taxes had slowed tobacco consumption, the New Zealand government stated that tougher measures were required to achieve its goal of fewer than 5% of the population smoking daily by 2025.
According to the government, the new rules will reduce smoking rates in the country by half in as little as ten years.
In New Zealand, smoking kills approximately 5,000 people per year, making it one of the leading causes of preventable death. According to the country’s government, four out of every five smokers began before the age of 18.