New Zealand said Thursday it will move to ban young people from ever smoking tobacco in the country, gradually phasing out access to cigarettes for the next generation completely.
The plan is meant to eventually see the country create what officials called the first legislated “smoke-free generation” and particularly target Māori, Pacific Islander and low-income communities.
“This is a historic day for the health of our people,” Dr. Ayesha Verrall, the country’s associate minister of health, said in a speech Thursday. “We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offense 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,” she continued.
Stuff.co.nz notes that some parts of the plan can be passed without legislation, but others will require amendments that are expected to be passed next year.
Officials said between 4,500 to 5,000 Kiwis die from smoking-related causes each year.
The legislation will effectively increase the smoking age every year in perpetuity from the date it goes into effect. The legal smoking age in New Zealand is 18, meaning if the law begins the first day of 2023 as planned, anyone born after Dec. 31, 2004, would never be able to lawfully smoke tobacco products in their lives.
The legislation will also include efforts to disincentivize the sale and use of cigarettes by older Kiwis, efforts that will be introduced gradually to give the community time to adjust.
About 8,000 retailers in New Zealand currently sell tobacco products, but that figure will be slashed to just 500 under new rules. By 2025, only cigarettes with low nicotine levels will be available to those that aren’t prohibited under the law.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation noted the law would make New Zealand’s tobacco industry one of the most regulated in the world, just behind Bhutan, which bans cigarette sales completely.
Verrall said the plan would save about $5 billion in future health expenditures, although it has already prompted backlash among some business owners. The minister added that those who lose income from tobacco sales won’t be compensated for any losses and stressed the government would need to work diligently to prevent the rise of a black market.
“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers,” she said Thursday. “While smoking rates are heading in the right direction, we need to do more, faster to reach our goal. If nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind.”