New Zealand passes unique minimum smoking age law aimed at banning smoking for the next generation

New Zealand has enacted a unique law to phase out smoking for the next generation by imposing a lifetime ban on young people buying cigarettes.

The law says tobacco can never be sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009 – and from now on, the minimum age to buy cigarettes will keep increasing.

In theory, someone trying to buy a pack of cigarettes 50 years from now would need ID showing they were at least 63 years old. But health authorities are hoping that smoking will fade long before then. They have a stated goal of making New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.

“There is no good reason to allow the sale of a product that kills half of the people who use it,” Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told parliament lawmakers. “And I can tell you that we will end that in the future as we pass this legislation.”

New Zealand is not alone in wanting to ban tobacco for future generations. In June, a report commissioned by the UK government recommended raising the legal smoking age each year to phase out tobacco use among young people.

Denmark too unveiled similar plans earlier this year, but the government said such a move would require changes to the EU Tobacco Products Directive. A citizens’ initiative then asked the European Commission to ban the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to EU citizens born after 2010.

According to the latest Eurostat data, 18.4% of people aged 15 and over in the EU smoke daily. But the figure varies from 6.4% in Sweden to 23.6% in Greece and 28.7% in Bulgaria.

Plain packaging, tax increases and a smoking ban

New Zealand already limits cigarette sales to people aged 18 and over, requires tobacco packs to come with graphic health warnings, and requires cigarettes to be sold in standardized packs.

In recent years, the country has also imposed a series of steep tax increases on cigarettes.

Verrall said the new law would create generational change, while the healthcare system would save billions of people from having to treat diseases caused by smoking, such as cancer, heart attacks and strokes.

Tobacco kills up to half of its users – resulting in more than 8 million deaths each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has long called for measures such as advertising bans, plain packaging and higher taxes on tobacco products to discourage smoking.

Over the past two decades, smoking gangs have also developed in many countries in enclosed public places, on public transport, in offices, and in public parks and beaches.

“Nanny State Ban”

New Zealand lawmakers voted along party lines passing the legislation 76 to 43.

The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the bill, said many small convenience stores, known in the country as dairies, would go bankrupt because they could no longer sell cigarettes.

“We oppose this bill because it’s a bad bill and its bad policy, it’s as simple as that,” said Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of the ACT. “There will be no better results for New Zealanders.”

She said the phased ban amounted to a “nanny state ban” that would end up creating a big black market. She said prohibition never worked and always ended with unintended consequences.

Vaping is not affected

The new law also reduces the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco from about 6,000 to 600 and decreases the amount of nicotine allowed in smoked tobacco.

This does not affect vaping, which has already become more popular than smoking in New Zealand.

Statistics New Zealand reported last month that 8% of New Zealand adults smoke daily, up from 16% a decade ago. Meanwhile, 8.3% of adults were vaping daily, up from less than 1% six years ago.

Smoking rates remain higher among indigenous Maori, with about 20% reporting smoking.

The change in the law was welcomed by several health agencies. The Health Coalition Aotearoa said the new law represented the culmination of decades of hard advocacy by health and community organizations.

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