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Could New Zealand’s Progressive Smoking Ban Move Be Copied Globally?

There has been plenty of talk about how young Britons are increasingly swapping cigarettes for vape liquid as the healthier alternative becomes increasingly popular, but the situation in New Zealand has seen the government take matters a lot further.

In landmark legislation to come into force next year, the country has become the first in the world to introduce a gradual age-related ban on smoking. It means that nobody born after January 1st 2009 will be allowed to buy cigarettes.

This is accompanied by other restrictive legislation that includes reducing the number of stores in the country allowed to sell cigarettes from 6,000 to 600 and slashing the permitted amount of nicotine in tobacco products. The New Zealand government said it was aiming to make the country smoke-free by 2025.

At the same time, no part of this ban affects vaping or places any new restrictions on it. This is significant because in the last year the country’s national statistics showed that while smoking rates had fallen to an all-time low of eight per cent, vaping has been increasing, up year-on-year from 6.2 per cent to 8.3 per cent. 

It might be suggested that reaching a point where more adults vape than smoke is a landmark achievement in itself, but the Kiwi government is clearly determined to push this advantage further, noting that the country has some specific issues such as smoking rates being much higher among Maoris and Pacific Islanders than the general population.

Associate health minister Ayesha Verrall commented: “Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives and the health system will be $5bn better off from not needing to treat the illnesses caused by smoking.”

The move was not passed with cross-party support, however, with MPs voting for or against down party lines. Among those opposed was the ACT party, which holds a libertarian view about such matters and whose deputy leader Brooke van Velden claimed it was a “nanny state” measure that would increase the black market for cigarettes.

Such opposition may come as little surprise; there is certainly no love lost between Labour and ACT just now, as prime minister Jacinda Arden’s comments on ACT leader David Seymour that she (wrongly) thought were off-mic have shown. 

However, the party she and her Labour government need to be most concerned with is the National Party, currently leading in the polls. Whether a change of government at the election expected late next year would bring a repeal of the new law is not known.

Such a move could be harder to accomplish if other countries follow suit. Nobody should dismiss New Zealand as some small, isolated country whose pioneering ideas don’t get copied; after all, in 1893 it was the first country in the world to give women the vote. Australia was the second in 1902, so the question of whether Australia could follow posed by ABC News may be particularly relevant. 

New Zealand was also one of the first countries to ban smoking in pubs, doing so in 2004, three years before the UK. Could it be that what has been legislated for in Wellington will be emulated in Westminster before long?