New Zealand Scraps the World’s First Generational Smoking Ban. Here’s What to Know

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announced his decision to repeal the tobacco restrictions, in what many consider a win for the tobacco industry.

Nov 27, 2023 - 21:26
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New Zealand Scraps the World’s First Generational Smoking Ban. Here’s What to Know
No Smoking sign in Denver, Colorado

New Zealand has scrapped the world’s first generational smoking ban, a year after the country passed the legislation.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, who was sworn in on Monday, announced his decision to repeal the tobacco restrictions before they ever came into effect, saying his top priority was to improve the economy and curb inflation.  [time-brightcove not-tgx=”true”]

The restrictions—introduced in 2022 by former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government—would have prevented people born after 2008 from legally purchasing cigarettes. Other aspects of the proposal included a reduction in the legal amount of nicotine contained in tobacco products, and a dramatic reduction in stores approved to sell such products from 6,000 to 600.

Luxon’s appointment comes six weeks after his conservative National Party won national elections with 38% of the vote, and formed a coalition with the populist-right New Zealand First. Repealing the ban was not part of Luxon’s election campaign, but the decision came about as part of the coalition agreement to cut taxes.

Luxon stated the original ban would have created “an opportunity for a black market to emerge, which would be largely untaxed.” He later told Radio New Zealand that “concentrating the distribution of cigarettes in one store in one small town is going to be a massive magnet for crime.” 

Critics and health ministers have called the plan a win for the tobacco industry. The ban was designed to prevent smoking-related deaths, the leading cause of avoidable deaths in New Zealand. The ban was estimated to save up to 5,000 lives annually, particularly among the nation’s Indigenous Māori community who record high daily smoking rates of 19.9%. It would also have saved the country’s healthcare system $1.3 billion over the next 20 years, according to recent modeling.

The anti-smoking group Health Coalition Aotearoa has expressed disappointment in the new coalition’s plans to repeal the smoking ban. “This is a major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry—whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” Professor Lisa Te Morenga, the chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa, said in a statement.

“Turning the tide on harmful products that are entrenched in society cannot be done by individuals, or even communities. It takes good—and brave—population-level policies,” Te Morenga’s statement added. 

The generation ban was lauded as a global first during its announcement, and provided a blueprint for the U.K. government’s own efforts to phase out smoking by 2024. In October, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced legislation that would criminalize the sale of tobacco products to people born on or after Jan. 1, 2009. A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister confirmed that Sunak’s position on the ban remains unchanged by New Zealand’s U-turn. 

“We are committed to that,” the spokeswoman said. “This is an important long-term decision and step to deliver a smoke-free generation which remains critically important.” 

As such, the U.K. will default to being the first country to implement a generational smoking ban.

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