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New Zealand imposes lifetime ban on youths buying cigarettes

New Zealanders enjoy the 2018 Methven Rodeo
A competitor smokes a cigarette at a break during the 2018 Methven Rodeo on October 21, 2018 in Methven, New Zealand.

Kai Schwoerer/Getty

Wellington, New Zealand — New Zealand on Tuesday approved a unique plan to phase out tobacco use by imposing a lifetime ban on young people buying cigarettes. The law states that tobacco can never be sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.

It means that the minimum age to buy cigarettes will continue to increase. In theory, someone trying to buy a pack of cigarettes 50 years from now would need identification to prove she was at least 63.

But health authorities hope that smoking will disappear long before then. They have a stated goal of making New Zealand smoke free by 2025.

The new law also reduces the number of retailers authorized to sell tobacco from approximately 6,000 to 600 and lowers the amount of nicotine allowed in smoked tobacco.

“There is no good reason to allow a product to be sold that kills half the people who use it,” Deputy Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told lawmakers in Parliament. “And I can tell you that we will end this in the future, when we pass this legislation.”

He said the health system would save billions of dollars by not having to treat diseases caused by smoking, such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes and amputations. She said the bill would create generational change and leave a legacy of better health for young people.

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Lawmakers voted along party lines in approving the legislation 76 to 43.

The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the bill, said many small shops, known in New Zealand as dairies, would close because they could no longer sell cigarettes.

“We oppose this bill because it’s a bad bill and its politics are bad, straight and simple,” said Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of ACT. “There will be no better results for the New Zealanders.”

She said the phased ban amounted to a “nanny state ban” that would end up creating a huge black market. She said that 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 reported last month that 8% of New Zealand adults smoked daily, up from 16% ten years ago. Meanwhile, 8.3% of adults vaped daily, up from less than 1% six years ago.

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Smoking rates continue to be highest among indigenous Maori, with around 20% reporting that they smoke.

New Zealand already restricts the sale of cigarettes to those over 18 years of age, requires that tobacco packs come with graphic health warnings and that cigarettes be sold in standardized packs.

In recent years, New Zealand has also imposed a series of heavy tax increases on cigarettes.

The law change was welcomed by various health agencies. Health Coalition Aotearoa said the new law represented the culmination of decades of hard advocacy by health and community organisations.

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