New Zealand has announced that it is considering, among other proposals, making smoking illegal as part of its aim to make the country smoke-free by 2025.
According to The Guardian, several proposals are being considered, such as gradually increasing the legal smoking age, banning the sale of cigarette and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004, reducing the amount of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, banning filters, and setting a minimum price for tobacco. Discussing the ban, Dr. Ayesha Varrall, New Zealand’s associate health minister said, “We need a new approach. About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach that goal [of Smokefree 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”
1. Support for the ban
Several public health organisations have shown their support for the new proposals. Lucy Elwood, Cancer Society chief executive said in a statement, “This proposal goes beyond assisting people to quit.” She highlighted that smoking rates were highest in low-income communities and that the number of tobacco retailers there was four times higher. “These glaring inequities are why we need to protect future generations from the harms of tobacco,” she said. “Tobacco is the most harmful consumer product in history and needs to be phased out.”
Others such as Shane Kawenata Bradbrook a long- term advocate for smoke-free Māori communities, also backed this, saying in a statement that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country”. Smoking rates are highest among Māori and Pasifika New Zealanders, and he said it was vital those communities had a voice in the process. “For too long the tobacco industry has been addicting our people, fleecing them of their money before we have to bury them in urupa [burial grounds] all over this land. I am looking forward to truly making this a sunset industry in this corner of the world.” Meanwhile El-Shadan Tautolo, a professor of public health at Auckland University of Technology, called the plan “a turning point”, stating that with enough resources and the right people, “we will be able to reach our communities who have been underserved and under-resourced for long enough”.
However, there are also those that do not support the proposals, worrying they might have negative economic impact on small businesses that sell cigarettes and also highlighting the potential for a tobacco black market. This risk is acknowledged in the New Zealand government’s document outlining proposals, where it says, “Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling.” Right-wing political party ACT social development and children spokesperson, Karen Chhour, said in a press release that, “New Zealand smokers who can least afford it will spend more on their habit and in turn do harm to those around them if the government mandates lower nicotine”. Meanwhile others questioned the extent of government interference in people’s lives.
4. Smoking in New Zealand
Currently in New Zealand around half a million people smoke daily and smoking is responsible for one in four cancer deaths. Māori women have the country’s highest smoking rates, with about 30% smoking daily and cancer is the leading cause of death for Māori women, as well as the second leading cause for Māori men.