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All kids in New Zealand will soon be banned from buying cigarettes... for ever

The country doesn‘t just want to drastically cut the number people who smoke, it wants to stop the young from starting at all

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Forget banning smoking indoors, eye-wateringly high tobacco taxes and gross packaging – New Zealand is taking anti-smoking laws to the next level. Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government doesn’t just want to drastically cut the number of New Zealanders who smoke, it wants to stop young people from starting at all.

The country’s strict new laws mean that anyone born after 2008 (i.e. roughly under the age of 14) will be banned from buying cigarettes for their entire lifetime. The age you need to be to buy cigarettes is currently 18 in NZ, but every year from 2027, that limit will increase by a year. The idea is that eventually fewer and fewer people will smoke, and selling cigarettes will be completely outlawed.

The aim is to cut the proportion of New Zealanders who smoke to 5 percent or less by 2025. It’s currently 11 percent, which, while not among the world’s highest smoking rates, isn’t that low either. Around 5,000 people die each year from tobacco-related diseases in New Zealand – a significant number for such a small country.

The new laws follow a decade of anti-smoking legislation, the most significant so far being a mandated 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes every year in New Zealand. That’s meant the average price of a 20-pack is currently around £23, around double the price of cigarettes in the UK and six times the price in some states in the USA.

Will it work? Well, it’s a little too early to tell. It’ll be more difficult to tackle the smoking rate among the Maori population, which is much higher (22 percent), so Ardern’s government is setting up a separate taskforce for that. There are also some fears that banning smoking will create a Prohibition-like black market – but you’d think that, at the very least, the overall number of smoking New Zealanders will significantly decrease.

The new laws are expected to come into place in 2022. But when they do, interestingly, New Zealand won’t actually have the strictest anti-smoking laws in the world. That title goes to Bhutan, which in 2004 became the first nation to ban the sale of tobacco and outlaw smoking in public places.

For those New Zealanders who’ve spent the last few years perfecting yer vape skills, don’t panic. The new laws are specifically targeted at tobacco, and so as yet, vaping won’t be impacted. Phew!

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