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NZ government gets tough on smoking with aim to stamp out by 2025

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New Zealanders may soon be able to buy cigarettes only from pharmacies and other licensed outlets, with anyone born in 2004 or later never legally allowed to buy tobacco products across the Tasman.

The proposals are part of the Labour government’s discussion document released on Thursday outlining how it can meet its ambitious “Smokefree 2025” target.

It wants to make cigarettes and other tobacco products both less available and less appealing as the country moves towards a “smoke-free generation”.

At its most extreme, according to Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, that might mean anyone born after January 1, 2004, was banned from buying tobacco products. This would effectively eventually phase out the legal sale of tobacco products in New Zealand.

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Modelling by the country’s Ministry of Health suggests the policy would halve smoking rates within 10 to 15 years.

Dr Verrall said an alternative would be raising the age at which cigarettes could legally be bought, from its current 18 years, to as high as 20 or 23.

Another proposal up for discussion is whether to effectively ban the sale of all but low-nicotine cigarettes, to make smoking less addictive.

Getting rid of the nicotine hit

Cutting the amount of nicotine in cigarettes would not make them harmless, but it would make them less addictive and make it easier for people to quit.

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“It should … stop the progression to addiction among those who do experiment and prevent relapse in people who are trying to quit smoking,” the Ministry of Health said.

“Even for smokers who are not currently considering quitting, using very low nicotine cigarettes can lead them to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke per day and be more likely to contemplate, make and succeed at a quit attempt.”

The average age that New Zealanders take up smoking is younger than 15. Photo: Getty

Under the proposals, outlets to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products would be limited. This would likely mean they would no longer be sold in convenience stores, service stations and supermarkets, but restricted to a few licensed retailers.

The government’s other suggestions include banning filters in cigarettes, making tobacco products even more expensive with a minimum legal price, and spending more on compliance and enforcement of smoking regulation.

Enforcement includes tackling the smuggling of cigarettes into the country, which the government concedes could increase as a result of its proposed crackdowns.

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the Ministry said.

An ambitious target

The Labour government adopted its ambitious “Smoke-free 2025” goal in 2011, aiming to cut the use of tobacco products and make New Zealand essentially a nation of non-smokers by 2025.

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The government says, in practice, success would mean less than 5 per cent of Kiwis of all ethnic and social groups smoking daily by 2025.

Cigarettes smoked per person has fallen by 40 per cent since 2011, but nearly 12 per cent of all New Zealanders still smoke. Māori women have the highest smoking rate, at 32 per cent.

“If New Zealand is to achieve its smoke-free goal equitably, we must take measures that alter the broader environment in which people live, to make it easy for young people to remain smoke-free and for smokers to quit, rather than only focus on measures that have an influence at an individual level,” the Ministry of Health said.

Submissions on the proposals close on May 31.

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