New Zealand has some of the most stringent anti-tobacco laws in the world. Smoking is banned in virtually all public spaces, except for some dedicated places. It also levies huge taxes, representing 70% of the final cost of the tobacco product. These measures have worked, dropping the daily smoking rates down to 11.6% in 2018, from 18% a decade earlier. But the island nation ultimately wants to become smoking-free altogether and is now preparing to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 2008.
The country where no one will be able to start smoking
Although tobacco is legal across the world, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death. Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths per year. One in four cancers in New Zealand is caused by smoking. The effects are most-felt among Māori, New Zealand’s indigenous people, with Māori women having the country’s highest smoking rates, with about 30% smoking daily.
Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things nicotine users experience, which is why New Zealand wants to solve its smoking epidemic by nipping the habit in the bud.
“We want to make sure young people never start smoking, so we are legislating for a smoke-free generation by making it an offense to sell or supply tobacco products to those aged 14 when the law comes into effect,” said Dr. Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand health official, during a press conference on Thursday.
“As they age, they, and future generations, will never legally be able to purchase tobacco,” Verrall added. “Because the truth is, there is no safe age to start smoking.”
According to SmokeFree.nz, the average age at which people start smoking in the island nation is around 15 years, despite the fact that the sale of cigarettes is banned for those under 18. Those affected by the new ban are about to turn 14, so the new restrictions aim to keep them smoking-free for their entire lifetimes even as they age into adulthood.
During the same announcement of the unprecedented smoking ban, the local government also said it would restrict the sale of tobacco products, cutting the number of stores that are allowed to sell cigarettes and other tobacco products from 8,000 to only 500. The vast majority of these tobacco retailers could be found in low-income regions, where the smoking rates are also the highest. The country also said it would only allow the sale of low-nicotine tobacco. There are no new restrictions on vaping (e-cigarettes that vaporize nicotine).
Older citizens who started smoking a long time ago will also find new types of support to help them quit, thanks to public health outreach programs.
Doctors and public health experts have hailed the new tough crackdown on tobacco, but critics say the measures lack teeth and will likely incentivize the formation of a thriving black market. In recent years, organized criminal groups have accelerated large-scale smuggling of tobacco products. To their credit, the New Zealand health ministry has acknowledged these risks, noting “customs will need more resource to enforce border control”.
In the future, there’s a good possibility that the sale of tobacco products will be banned entirely across all age groups. Previously, the New Zealand government said it has a goal of becoming totally smoke-free by 2025.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.