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New Zealand Does It: Cigarettes Are Banned!

New Zealand banned cigarettes
Written by Sarah Friedman

It’s definitely not a decision that everyone likes, and it might have big implications for bolstering a black market. But regardless of what comes next, New Zealand took a big step recently when it banned cigarettes. Read on to find out more about this new Kiwi law meant to get rid of smoking.

What’s the story?

This most recent news story didn’t just begin, but is the continuation of an ongoing story that started last year. On December 9th, 2021, New Zealand came out with the unthinkable, an idea to pass large-scale regulation to end the legal sale of cigarettes. Announced by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health, the idea wasn’t to draw a hard line making all cigarette sales immediately illegal, but to set a staggered deadline based on the year residents were born. The first implementation proposed was for those born after 2008 to be barred from purchasing cigarettes.

Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall put it bluntly when she said, “We want to make sure young people never start smoking.” Along with the age limitations, other regulations were proposed, like limiting the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, and restricting the places of sale. Just how restrictive did the government propose in terms of sales outlets? It proposed bringing the number of retail locations, currently in the thousands, down to a few hundred only.

This idea was also met with criticism. One of the big ones is that such a move won’t stop people from smoking, but will bolster a black market to provide the contraband. Something New Zealand claims it can control with stricter border controls. Lobbyist Sunny Kaushal made a good point by saying “This is all 100% theory and 0% substance… There’s going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap”.


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Smoking does cause an extreme amount of damage the world over. In Zealand, about 8% of the country are smokers, according to the Health Ministry. It also says that smoking is the cause of one in every four cancer cases within the country, and is the leading cause of preventative death. The most immediate goal of the legislation, is to reduce the percentage of smokers by 5% by 2025. It should be noted that smoking and smoking death numbers are higher among New Zealand’s indigenous people, like the Maori and the Pacifika populations.

New Zealand just banned cigarettes

The idea was thrown out there last year, and had a lot of support on one end, and a lot of criticism on the other. Despite the critics, however, New Zealand decided to move forward with legislation for banning cigarettes. On Tuesday December 13th, the New Zealand parliament officially passed the Smoke-Free Environment bill to get the job done. Now anyone born after the year 2008 cannot purchase cigarettes, because the merchandise is banned for them.

Ayesha Verrall backed up the move again, saying the new law is moving “towards a smoke-free future”. She went on “Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives and the health system will be NZ$5 billion (US$3.2 billion) better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking, such as numerous types of cancer, heart attacks, strokes, amputations.”

Each year, less and less people will be legally able to buy cigarettes. By 2050, even 40 year olds will be too young to buy the products. In this way, rather than making them 100% illegal at once, New Zealand is looking to phase the cancer-sticks out. Right now, numbers are actually pretty low for smokers in the country, and they’ve already been declining. Government statistics from this past November put the rate at 8%, which is a drop from last year when it was 9.4%.

The bill also goes forward with limiting the number of cigarette retailers. The allowed number will be brought down to 600, from the 6,000 or so that currently exist. Plus, the country will also move forward with reducing the amount of nicotine in each cigarette, as well as increasing price to make them less affordable. Said Verrall: “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.”

The country isn’t implementing this with the thought that people should have to quit cold turkey either. The law covers increases in funding for health services, and has new services to help people quit, which are geared specifically toward the indigenous communities.

Stop smoking cigarettes in New Zealand
Stop smoking cigarettes in New Zealand

A point of note is that the legislation does not ban vapes, which have grown very much in popularity, especially among the younger generations which get banned from cigarettes first. I wonder if the proliferation of vapes, is what made the government think a move like this is possible.

How many vapers are there in New Zealand? About 8.3% of adults vape daily, which is about the same number of smokers. This is an increase from 6.2% last year. This law that bans cigarettes and not vapes, gives much credence to the idea that vapes are not dangerous like smoking, something many governments like the US try to deny.

Verrall summed the whole thing up with this statement: “For decades we have permitted tobacco companies to maintain their market share by making their deadly product more and more addictive. It is disgusting and it is bizarre. We have more regulations in this country on the safety of the sale of a sandwich than on a cigarette. We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”

Expected criticism to New Zealand cigarette ban

Even when a law is made for the betterment of society, there are harsh realities that deserve consideration. Critics of this new bill are quick to point out that not only will this likely fuel the black market, but that it will also do damage to many small shops. The ACT political party Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden put it this way:

“No one wants to see people smoke, but the reality is, some will and Labour’s nanny state prohibition is going to cause problems.” She went on that, “Prohibition has never worked in any time or place and it always has unintended consequences. Eventually, we will end up with a black market for tobacco, with no standards or regulation, and people will be harmed.”

She concluded “This will drive up the trade of black market tobacco with high nicotine, driving those addicted to cigarettes to turn to crime to feed their habit. The gangs will be rubbing their hands with glee. This reeks of a poorly thought out feel-good policy with numerous potential negative downsides – it’s classic command and control Labour.”

Black market cigarettes
Black market cigarettes

What kinds of issues this bill creates, remain to be seen. As New Zealand is the first country to introduce such legislation, and such a way to implement it, the reality is that how it will work out, and what problems prevail, are not yet known.

One last thing to consider, is that though cigarette smoking is unquestionably bad (along with any other form of smoking), New Zealand did nothing to attack the issue of alcohol. Perhaps this is a one-at-a-time thing. Or perhaps its just another example of uneven and often nonsensical government policy. I mean, I think it’s great to try out a policy like this, but at the same time, should it be up to the government to cherry-pick which vices its people can have? And what does it say when it chooses one industry to crush, while leaving another comparably bad one, perfectly legal?

Conclusion

New Zealand sure set itself apart when it took cigarettes and banned them with legislation barring sales based on birth year. Is this a trend we’ll see in other countries? And is this the beginning of the end of the cigarette industry, or will it simply get pushed underground?

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.