WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – The New Zealand government believes it has come up with a unique plan to end smoking – a lifetime ban for people aged 14 and under.
Under a new law announced by the government on Thursday that plans to pass next year, the minimum age to buy cigarettes would continue to rise year on year.
This means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law came into force, buyers could still buy cigarettes, but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old.
In practice, the authorities hope that smoking will disappear decades before this date. Indeed, the plan sets as a target that less than 5% of New Zealanders smoke by 2025.
Other parts of the plan are to only allow the sale of ultra-low nicotine tobacco products and reduce the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be made over time to help retailers adjust.
Since the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for young people would not have an impact for a few years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand’s Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, who heads the plan, said her job at a Wellington public hospital was to tell several smokers they had developed cancer.
“Every day you meet someone who is faced with the misery caused by tobacco,” said Verrall. “The most horrible way people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco. “
Smoking rates have been declining steadily in New Zealand for years, with only around 11% of adults now smoking and 9% smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Maori remains much higher at 22%. As part of the government’s plan, a task force would be created to help reduce smoking among Maori.
Large tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some wonder why they are not even higher.
“We don’t think the tax increases will have a further impact,” Verrall said. “It’s really hard to quit and we think if we did that we would punish people addicted to cigarettes even more.”
And she said tax measures tend to place a greater burden on low-income people, who are more likely to smoke.
The new law would have no impact on vaping. Verrall said smoking is much more harmful and remains a leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand, killing up to 5,000 people each year.
“We think vaping is a really appropriate cessation tool,” she said.
The sale of vaping products is already restricted to people aged 18 and over in New Zealand, and vaping is banned in schools. Verrall said there was evidence of an increase in vaping among young people, a trend she is following “very closely.”
New Zealand’s approach to ban the next generation from smoking tobacco has not been tried elsewhere, she said.
But she said studies have shown that sales among young people decline when the minimum age is raised. In the United States, the federal minimum age for purchasing tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21 two years ago.
While public health experts have generally praised New Zealand’s plan, not everyone is happy.
Sunny Kaushal said some stores may close. Kaushal chairs the Dairy and Business Owners Group, which represents nearly 5,000 convenience stores – often called dairies in New Zealand – and gas stations.
“We all want a smoke-free New Zealand,” he said. “But it’s going to have a huge impact on small businesses. It shouldn’t be done, as it destroys dairies, lives and families in the process. This is not the way.
Kaushal said tobacco tax increases had already created a black market that was exploited by gangs, and the problem would only get worse. He said smoking was already in its twilight in New Zealand and would die of its own accord.
“This is being driven by academics,” he said, adding that stakeholders had not been consulted.
But Verrall said she didn’t believe the government was going too far because statistics showed the vast majority of smokers wanted to quit anyway, and the new policies would only help them achieve their goal.
She said the pandemic had helped people gain a new appreciation for the benefits of public health measures and community rallying, and that this energy could perhaps be harnessed not only to fight smoking, but also to fight. against diseases like diabetes.
Verrall said she never smoked herself, but her late grandmother did, and it likely compromised her health.
“It’s a really cruel product,” Verrall said.