New Zealand in U-turn on plans for historic ban on smoking

New Zealand’s new government will ditch a new law to ban smoking for future generations to help pay for tax cuts despite warnings from health experts.

The country passed legislation in 2022 which introduced a steadily rising smoking age to stop those born after January 2009 from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes.

The law was aimed at preventing thousands of smoking-related deaths and save the health system billions of dollars.

The legislation is believed to have been the blueprint for the plan in the UK to phase out smoking for future generations.

The proposed New Zealand law included dramatically reducing the legal amount of nicotine in tobacco products, allowing their sale only through special tobacco stores.

It also included cutting the number of stores legally allowed to sell cigarettes from 6,000 to just 600 nationwide.

The legislation due to come to effect from July 2024.

But as part of its coalition agreement with populist New Zealand First, the government has ditched the plans.

Finance minister Nicola Willis said the measures will be axed with the revenue from cigarette sales going towards the coalition’s tax cuts.

Prime minister Christopher Luxon said the reversal would prevent a hidden tobacco market cropping up and stop shops from being targeted for crime.

“Concentrating the distribution of cigarettes in one store in one small town is going to be a massive magnet for crime,” Luxon told Radio New Zealand.

He said his government would continue to lower smoking rates through education and other smoking policies.

But public health experts have expressed shock at the policy reversal, saying it could cost up to 5,000 lives a year, and be particularly detrimental to Māori, who have higher smoking rates.

“This is major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry – whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” said Professor Lisa Te Morenga, the chair of non-government industry group Health Coalition Aotearoa.