WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand on Tuesday adopted a unique plan to phase out smoking 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.
This means that the minimum age for buying cigarettes will keep increasing. In theory, someone trying to buy a pack of cigarettes 50 years from now would need ID showing they were at least 63 years old.
But health authorities are hoping that smoking will fade 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 allowed to sell tobacco from about 6,000 to 600 and decreases the amount of nicotine allowed in smoked tobacco.
“There is no good reason to allow the sale of a product that kills half of the people who use it,” Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told parliament lawmakers. “And I can tell you that we will end that in the future as we pass this legislation.”
She said the healthcare 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.
Lawmakers voted along party lines passing the legislation 76 to 43.
The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the bill, said many small corner shops, known in New Zealand as dairies, would go bankrupt because they could no longer sell cigarettes.
“We oppose this bill because it’s a bad bill and its bad policy, it’s as simple as that,” said Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of the ACT. “There will be no better results for New Zealanders.”
She said the phased ban amounted to a “nanny state ban” that would end up creating a big black market. She said prohibition 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 smoke daily, up from 16% a decade ago. Meanwhile, 8.3% of adults were vaping daily, up from less than 1% six years ago.
Smoking rates remain higher among indigenous Maori, with about 20% reporting smoking.
New Zealand already limits cigarette sales to people aged 18 and over, requires tobacco packs to come with graphic health warnings, and requires cigarettes to be sold in standardized packs.
New Zealand has also imposed a series of steep cigarette tax increases in recent years.
The law change was welcomed by several health agencies. The Health Coalition Aotearoa said the new law represented the culmination of decades of hard advocacy by health and community organisations.