In the world-first legislation to outlaw smoking, New Zealand has introduced a steadily rising smoking age to prevent those aged 14 and under from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes. “Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives, and the health system will be $5 billion better off from not having to treat the illnesses caused by smoking, such as numerous types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and amputations,” said Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall at the law’s passage on Tuesday.
New Zealand’s smoking rate is already at historic lows, with just 8% of adults smoking daily, according to government statistics released in November, down from 9.4% last year. It is hoped that the Smokefree Environments Bill will reduce that number to less than 5% by 2025, with the eventual aim of eliminating the practice.
The bill also aims to reduce nicotine levels in products to make them less addictive by limiting the number of retailers who can sell smoked tobacco products to 600 nationwide, down from 6,000 currently.
However, this bill will not restrict vape sales. Data indicates that at least some New Zealanders have swapped their nicotine habit from cigarettes to vaping. Data released in November showed the number of people smoking daily had fallen to 8%, down from 9.4% last year, marking the lowest rates since records began. However, the increase in daily vape users was greater than the decrease in daily smokers: 8.3% of adults now vape daily, up from 6.2% in the previous year.
Critics of the bill, including the ACT party, which has 10 seats in parliament, have warned that it will fuel a black market in tobacco products and kill off small businesses. “No one wants to see people smoke, but the reality is that some will and Labor’s nanny state prohibition will cause problems,” ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden said.