WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) – New Zealand on Tuesday adopted a unique plan to phase out tobacco smoking by imposing a lifetime ban on cigarette purchases among young people.
The law states that tobacco can never be sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.
This means that the minimum age for buying cigarettes is getting higher and higher. In theory, someone trying to buy a pack of cigarettes in 50 years would need ID to prove they are at least 63 years old.
But health officials are hoping smoking will end long before that. They have the declared goal of making New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.
The new law also reduces the number of retailers who are allowed to sell tobacco from about 6,000 to 600 and lowers the allowable amount of nicotine in tobacco that is smoked.
“There is no good reason to allow the sale of a product that kills half the people who use it,” said Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Ayesha Verrall speaking to lawmakers in Parliament. “And I can tell you that if we pass this law, we will end this in the future.”
She said the healthcare system would save billions of dollars by not treating smoking-related diseases such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes and amputations. She said the bill would create a generational shift and leave a legacy of better health for the youth.
Lawmakers voted 76-43 along party lines to pass the law.
The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the law, said many small corner shops, known in New Zealand as dairies, were going out of business because they could no longer sell cigarettes.
“We oppose this law because it’s a bad law and it’s bad policy, so direct and simple,” said Brooke van Velden, ACT vice chair. “There will be no better results for the New Zealanders.”
She said the phased ban would amount to a “nanny state ban” that would eventually create a large black market. She said the ban 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 last month reported that 8% of New Zealand adults smoked daily, up from 16% a decade ago. 8.3% of adults now vape daily, up from less than 1% six years ago.
Smoking rates remain higher among Indigenous Māori, with around 20% reporting having smoked.
New Zealand already restricts the sale of cigarettes to people over the age of 18, requires that tobacco packs carry graphic health warnings and cigarettes are sold in standardized packs.
New Zealand has also introduced a number of hefty tax hikes on cigarettes in recent years.
The law change was welcomed by several health authorities. Health Coalition Aotearoa said the new law is the culmination of decades of hard-fought advocacy by health and community organizations.