Thank you for smoking – New Zealand, new government, old habits?

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FILE PHOTO: A woman smokes a cigarette next a food stall, before smoking was banned in public spaces according to a reform of the Mexican government's regulation of the general law for tobacco control, in Monterrey, Mexico January 14, 2023. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril/File Photo

The recently elected government of New Zealand has announced its intention to abandon the globally renowned smoking ban in order to finance tax reductions. The proposed law, initially introduced during the previous administration led by Jacinda Ardern, aimed to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to individuals born after 2008. It included provisions such as limiting the number of tobacco retailers and lowering the nicotine content in cigarettes.

The Arguments

Smoking is New Zealand’s number one cause of preventable deaths, and the policy was drafted with the objective of deterring younger generations from adopting the habit. The abrupt policy reversal has faced strong criticism from health experts.

The Smokefree laws were projected to save as many as 5,000 lives annually and were thought to have influenced the UK government’s announcement in September of a similar smoking ban for young people. Despite New Zealand’s policy reversal, a spokeswoman affirmed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s stance on the matter remained unaltered.

While lauded as a commendable public health initiative, the Smokefree measures encountered opposition from certain private sector groups in New Zealand. Owners of newsagents and corner shops expressed discontent over the anticipated loss of revenue, even with government subsidies.

The recently appointed Prime Minister Chris Luxon and some lawmakers fear a ban could give rise to a black market for tobacco.

The Facts

In 2022, public health predictions indicated that the Smokefree policy would save New Zealand’s health system approximately NZ$1.3 billion (£630 million; $790 million) over the next two decades.

Despite the recent policy shift, New Zealand maintains its commitment to lowering the national smoking rate to 5% by 2025, with the ultimate goal of complete elimination.

National data reveals that over the past year, over 80,000 adults have successfully quit smoking. Today, approximately 8% of New Zealand’s adult population smokes.

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