WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand on Tuesday approved a unique plan to phase out tobacco smoking by imposing a lifetime ban on young people from 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 purchase cigarettes will continue to rise. In theory, someone looking to buy a pack of cigarettes 50 years from now would need ID to prove they’re at least 63 years old.
But health authorities hope the smoke will fade away long before then. They have a stated goal of making New Zealand smoke-free by 2025.
The new law also reduces the number of dealers licensed 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 MPs. “And I can tell you that we will end that in the future when we pass this legislation.”
He said the health care system would save billions of dollars from not having to treat smoking-related diseases, such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes and amputations. He 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 ACT Libertarian Party, which opposed the bill, said many small corner shops, known in New Zealand as dairies, would go out of business because they would no longer be able to sell cigarettes.
“We are against this bill because it’s a bad bill and its bad policy, it’s so direct and simple,” said Brooke van Velden, deputy leader of ACT. “There will be no better result for New Zealanders.”
He said the phased ban amounted to a “nanny-state ban” that would end up creating a large black market. He said the ban never worked and always resulted in unintended consequences.
The law doesn’t affect vaping, which has already become more popular than smoking in New Zealand.
New Zealand statistics reported last month that 8% of New Zealand adults smoked daily, down from 16% a decade ago. Meanwhile, 8.3% of adults were vaping every day, up from less than 1% six years ago.
Smoking rates remain highest among indigenous Māori, with around 20% reporting having smoked.
New Zealand already restricts the sale of cigarettes to those over 18, requires tobacco packets to come with graphic health warnings, and cigarettes to be sold in standardized packets.
New Zealand has also imposed a series of hefty cigarette tax hikes in recent years.
The law change has been welcomed by several health agencies. The Aotearoa Health Coalition said the new law was the culmination of decades of tough advocacy by health and community organizations.