Butt out: Lifetime ban on young people buying cigarettes imposed in New Zealand

File - person puts out a lit cigarette. Getty Images

In a world first, New Zealand lawmakers have voted to ban the sale of cigarettes to anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009. The unique plan to phase out tobacco smoking will mean that the minimum age to buy cigarettes will go up year by year.

For example, 50 years from now, Kiwis will need to show ID to prove they are at least 63 years old to buy a pack of cigarettes.

The new tobacco regulations were passed on Tuesday and will go into effect in 2023. This means that anyone “aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco,” according to Associate Minister of Health Dr. Ayesha Verrall.

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“There is no good reason to allow a product to be sold that kills half the people that use it,” Verrall told lawmakers in New Zealand Parliament. “And I can tell you that we will end this in the future, as we pass this legislation.”

Verrall also argued that New Zealand’s cigarette ban will save billions of dollars in health care costs.

“Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives and the health system will be $5-billion better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking, such as numerous types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, amputations,” Verrall said at the law’s passing on Tuesday.

New Zealand has stated that it aims to be “smoke-free” by 2025.

As part of the new package of regulations, the number of retailers allowed to sell tobacco will drop to 600 from 6,000, and the amount of nicotine allowed in tobacco products will be reduced.

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“It means nicotine will be reduced to non-addictive levels and communities will be free from the proliferation and clustering of retailers who target and sell tobacco products in certain areas,” Verrall said.

Smoking rates remain higher among Indigenous Māori in New Zealand, with about 20 per cent reporting they smoked. The country has increased funding for health services and campaigns that encourage quitting smoking, specifically for Māori and Pacific communities, the Guardian reported.

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Lawmakers voted along party lines in passing the legislation, 76 to 43.

The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the bill, said many small corner stores, known in New Zealand as dairies, would go out of business because they would no longer be able to sell cigarettes.

“We stand opposed to this bill because it’s a bad bill and it’s bad policy, it’s that straightforward and simple,” said Brooke van Velden, ACT’s deputy leader. “There won’t be better outcomes for New Zealanders.”

She said the gradual ban amounted to “nanny-state prohibition” that would end up creating a large black market. She said prohibition has never worked and always ended with unintended consequences.

The law does not affect vaping, which has already become more popular than smoking in New Zealand.

Statistics New Zealand reported last month that eight per cent of New Zealand adults smoked daily, down from 16 per cent 10 years ago. Meanwhile, 8.3 per cent of adults vaped daily, up from less than one per cent six years ago.

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New Zealand already restricts cigarette sales to those aged 18 and over, requires tobacco packs to come with graphic health warnings and cigarettes to be sold in standardized packs. The country, in recent years, also imposed a series of hefty tax hikes on cigarettes.

The law change was welcomed by several health agencies. Health Coalition Aotearoa said the new law represented the culmination of decades of hard-fought advocacy by health and community organizations.

— With files from The Associated Press

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