Health & Science

New Zealand: Less nicotine in cigarettes, tobacco banned for future generations

New Zealand wants to ban tobacco for younger generations and further reduce the consumption of cigarettes among its population. The country is running behind its objective to have less than 5% smokers by 2025. But new regulations won’t be implemented before 2024.

In New Zealand, the government announced new measures to further reduce cigarette consumption in the country | © Pawel Czerwinski

On December 9, Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall announced the new Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan in Parliament. It aims to drastically reduce smoke in New Zealand.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers. Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke kills 12 to 13 people every day, approximately 4,500 to 5,000 every year in the country.

As a consequence, the government wants to create its first smokefree generation. “People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco” emphasizes Dr. Ayesha Verrall. Anyone born after 2009 would be banned from buying tobacco when they reach the age of 18 if the law is implemented in time.

We know that half of those who take up smoking die from its effects,” told Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the media.

New Zealand is behind schedule for a smokefree nation by 2025

In 2011, New Zealand established the goal that less than 5% of adult New Zealanders would smoke by 2025. But the country is behind schedule. The new action plan then takes new measures to catch up on its objective.

The new legislation will reduce the level of nicotine in cigarettes to help quit smoking.

It will also reduce the number of shops that can sell smoke tobacco by 94%. From 8,000 retailers selling cigarettes, the new rules would only allow 500 retailers.

The government would implement the retail reduction in 2024 and 7,500 retailers would need to transition to a new business model. In the meantime, officials don’t know the full scale of the tobacco black market. They will start researching its size in March 2022.

Product design will also be more controlled to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco.

Public consultation about new measures to reduce smoking rates

In April and May, the government launched a public consultation on these measures, during which it received over 5,100 submissions.

It thought about restricting sales only to drug stores and pharmacies but which retailers allowed to sell tobacco in the future hasn’t been detailed in the action plan yet.

The government also considered removing filters on cigarettes to make them less appealing and remove the misconception that filters mitigate the harms of smoking. But further work was needed to determine the best route for implementation.

Furthermore, the government concluded that increasing taxes will not further help people quit smoking anymore but “only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit“.

As it stands with the new plan, the government estimates to generate more than NZ $11 billion worth of benefits (US $7.45bn), spread out in half between savings in health spending and income gains from increased productivity. But it doesn’t take into consideration the $3.1 billion in retail sales of smoke tobacco in 2020, expected to significantly decrease.

31% of adult Māori smoke

As the rate of smokers has been decreasing to 13.4% in 2019/20, the smoking rate among Māori is still at 31%.

And authorities forecast it would take decades until Māori smoking rates fall below 5% without more restrictive actions, the associate minister of Health said. New Zealand Europeans are on track to be smokefree by 2025.

Low-income, Māori and Pacific communities are particularly affected by the harm related to smoking. Moreover, access to health services is unequal in New Zealand; on average, Māori die 7 years younger than Non-Māori in the country.

As a consequence, one of the focus areas is to make sure there is Māori leadership across all levels of the action plan with the creation of a Māori advisory task force. In April, the ministry of Health announced the creation of the first Māori health authority.

New regulations will be implemented only after 2024

The package of legislation is modeled to meet the smokefree goal for Maori males and the non-Maori population in 2025, and in 2016 for Maori females.

The ministry expects to have the legislation in place in December 2022. But none of the new laws would be implemented before 2024.

Low level of nicotine is said to help quit smoking quickly according to the authorities. But the implementation timeline shows the rule would only be implemented in 2025.

The retail reduction is expected to come into reality in 2024 if there is no delay.

As the timeline suggests, the target of making New Zealand a smokefree nation by 2025 will not be met.

Regarding the entire smokefree generation, Dr. Ayesha Verrall said the ban would likely start with people aged 14 in 2023, i.e. people born after 2009. But it will only be implemented in 2027 when the first smokefree generation will be 18.

Last year, vaping was regulated by the government by restricting sales to only three flavors and forbidding sales of vaping products to under-18s. But the government is less aggressive with vaping as it sees it as less harmful and a way to help smokers quit cigarettes.

Meanwhile in Chile, the country debated on cigarettes being considered essential goods during Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

Read more about New Zealand

Historic step towards smokefree future, New Zealand government, December 2021, Free accessRegulatory impact statement: Smokefree Aotearoa action plan, Ministry of Health, December 2021, Free access, PDF

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