A man smokes a cigarette through his scarf on March 26, 2020 in Christchurch, New Zealand.Photo: Kai Schwoerer (Getty Images)
The government of New Zealand is preparing to ban cigarette smoking forever by anyone born after 2008, according to a new report from the news outlet Stuff. The move would eventually make it illegal for anyone in New Zealand to smoke, no matter how old they got, while allowing those who are currently addicted to tobacco to continue smoking until their death.
“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,” New Zealand health official Dr. Ayesha Verrall said on Thursday according to a video of the announcement.
“As they age, they, and future generations, will never legally be able to purchase tobacco,” Verrall continued. “Because the truth is, there is no safe age to start smoking.”
The New Zealand government also announced new measures on Thursday that would restrict the sale of tobacco in retail shops, cutting the number of stores that carry cigarettes from 8,000 to about 500 in the country, according to Stuff. The government will also restrict the kinds of cigarettes that can be sold in the country, with only low-nicotine tobacco becoming the norm.
Smoking related illness is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand, killing roughly 5,000 people per year in the island nation of 5 million. And New Zealand’s health care system foots the bill for smoking related disease.
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But older people who still smoke will also find new public health outreach efforts to get them to quit.
“Practical support measures for smokers are also being prioritized,” Verrall said. “Smoking is a difficult habit to kick. And when I think of all the smokers I cared for, the vast majority wanted to stop and tried many times.”
The new legislation would make New Zealand unique in an effort to completely ban smoking, a prohibition that hasn’t worked very well for other drugs around the world. But there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered by the government, including what the punishment will be for anyone caught smoking or selling tobacco.
Legislators will also “think very carefully” about how the laws will be enforced to stop an illicit tobacco market forming.
“We will need to enforce it, and we will need to resource enforcement at the border and in the community.”
The government also invoked New Zealand’s success at fighting covid-19 during the pandemic in showing what can be done when the country undertakes an ambitious project for the health of the community.
“Covid has shown what we can do when we all work together toward one public health goal,” Verrall said.
New Zealand has seen just 12,621 cases of covid-19 during the entire pandemic and only 44 deaths from the disease. The country has achieved an impressive 73% vaccination rate for the coronavirus, despite a slow start to the country’s vaccine program in early 2021.
Correction: This article originally stated that tobacco would be banned for anyone born after 2010. Our math was off. It’s 2008. We apologize for the error.