No smoking in New Zealand has just taken a monumental step forward. Cigarette smoking bans have been growing in many countries ever since the evidence of lung cancer started outweighing the lobbying power of the tobacco industry. Admittedly it took years and many, many deaths to reach the point where smoking bans in closed environments, except the home, have become more and more prevalent. However, it has not been all smooth sailing, despite the overwhelming evidence that cigarettes will almost certainly kill you. Spikes in cigarette use have occurred, even in the most unlikely and, frankly, inexplicable populations; teenage girls for example.
However, despite these anomalies, the use of cigarettes in most civilized and developed nations has diminished significantly. Unfortunately, 6 million people worldwide still die annually from cigarette smoking, 480,000 of them in the United States. I should perhaps add that these numbers only cover people who actually smoke. The effects of second-hand smoke on non-smokers’ lungs is not included. In addition, we know that cigarettes contain up to 7,000 chemicals including arsenic, lead and tar, which you would think would be enough information to put most sensible people off them for life – not enough sensible people obviously!
The legislature in New Zealand has just taken the next step in addressing this issue, driven by population health concerns but, perhaps, primarily by the cost to the health services in dealing with the results of smoking.
THE LEGISLATION PASSED BY PARLIAMENT A FEW WEEKS AGO MEANS THAT ANYONE BORN AFTER 2008 WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO BUY CIGARETTES OR TOBACCO PRODUCTS.
That means the number of people able to buy tobacco will shrink each year as the older population dies off. By 2050, for example, 40-year-olds will be too young to buy cigarettes.
Health Minister Ayesha Verrall, who introduced the bill, said it was a step “towards a smoke-free future”.
No smoking in New Zealand will gradually become a countrywide reality applicable to everyone including visitors.
“Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives and the health system will be NZ$5 billion (US$3.2 billion) better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking,” Dr. Verrall said.
New Zealand’s smoking rate is already at historic lows, with just 8% of adults smoking daily according to government statistic released in November 2020 – down from 9.4% last year.
It is hoped that the Smoke-free Environments Bill will reduce that number to less than 5% by 2025, with the eventual aim of eliminating the practice altogether.
The bill is also designed to limit the number of retailers able to sell smoked tobacco products to 600 nationwide – down from 6,000 currently – and reduce nicotine levels in products to make them less addictive.
“It means nicotine will be reduced to non-addictive levels and communities will be free from the proliferation and clustering of retailers who target and sell tobacco products in certain areas,” Dr. Verrall said. She added that the legislation could close the life expectancy between Maori and non-Maori citizens: The overall smoking rate for Maori citizens is at 19.9% – down from last year’s figure of 22.3%.
Critics of the bill – including the ACT party which holds 10 seats in parliament – have warned that the policy could fuel a black market in tobacco products and kill off small shops. “No one wants to see people smoke, but the reality is, some will and Labour’s nanny state prohibition is going to cause problems,” said ACT Deputy Leader Brooke van Velden.
I can only add that the critics appear to be seeking political advantage from a move that is forward-thinking, eminently sensible and a process that puts the welfare of the country first: an unusual and laudable step for most politicians in most countries these days.