Smokefree 2025: 14-year-olds in New Zealand will be banned from smoking under new law

The Government has put forward a number of proposals to try achieve its goal of making New Zealand Smokefree by 2025. Photo / File

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the action plan was focused on ensuring young people did not take up smoking in the first place

Photo: The Government has put forward a number of proposals to try achieve its goal of making New Zealand Smokefree by 2025. Photo / File

08 December 2021 | Michael Neilson | New Zealand Herald

People aged 14 and under will soon never be able to legally buy tobacco, under new legislation being announced today. PM Jacinda Ardern said the action plan was focused on ensuring young people did not take up smoking in the first place.

People aged 14 and under will soon be unable to legally buy tobacco, under new legislation being announced today.

Associate Minister of Health Dr Ayesha Verrall launched Auahi Kore Aotearoa Mahere Rautaki 2025, the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan, this morning.

The plan includes measures that by the end of next year under 14-year-olds will not be able to legally purchase tobacco, and the age rises each year.

“This is a historic day for the health of our people,” Verrall said.

“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers. Smoking-related harm is particularly prevalent in our Māori, Pacific and low income communities.”

The crackdown has been welcomed as a world-leading tobacco control measure.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the action plan was focused on ensuring young people did not take up smoking in the first place: “Half of those who take up smoking die from its effects”.

On the dangers of fuelling the black market for tobacco, she said increases in excise duties had already seen that.

However, simply continuing to increase prices was no longer as effective, and other measures had to be taken Ardern said.

Ardern was asked about vaping and said it was an alternative that worked very successfully to help people stop smoking.

“It is an important tool. I’m sure there will be those who want to have a say on the use of vaping among young people in the future, but we are very focused in this plan on stopping people from taking up smoking in the first place.”

She said the aim was to find safe ways for people to quit.

‘No safe age to start smoking’

Verrall said: “We want to make sure young people never start smoking.

“As they age they and future generations will never be able to buy tobacco products.

“There is no safe age to start smoking.”

While smoking rates were decreasing, Verrall said more needed to be done and faster.

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand Europeans were on track to be smokefree by 2025, but Māori would take decades longer.

“Two and half years of the eight-year difference in life expectancy is due to smoking,” Verrall said.

“If nothing changes it would be decades until Māori smoking rates fall below 5 per cent, and this Government is not prepared to leave people behind.

“We’ve already seen the full impact of excise tax increases. The Government recognises that going further will not help people quit, it will only punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit.

“We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”

A bill is to be introduced in June next year, aiming to be passed by December, meaning all going to plan those aged 14 in 2023 will be banned from purchasing tobacco.

The new laws will also mean only smoked tobacco products containing very low level nicotine will be able to be sold.

“The changes will not come into effect immediately giving retailers time to transition to a new business model.

“Alongside policies in the action plan that will become law, practical support measures for smokers are also being prioritised.

“Preventing people from starting smoking and helping those who smoke quit means we are covering both ends of the spectrum.

“We know it’s really tough to break the habit and some people who smoke will understandably need lots of support leading up to these changes taking effect.”

Govt’s crackdown welcomed by smokefree lobbyist

ASH chairman and founder, Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, welcomed the Government’s announcement.

“It’s been a long slog, but it actually now looks like we will achieve the Smokefree 2025 goal,” he said.

“The Government is to be commended on its courage and commitment. This collection of complementary measures will be the envy of countries struggling to combat the death and misery caused by smoked tobacco. We will lead the world in tobacco control.”

Verrall said a Māori Advisory Taskforce would be established, chaired by Dame Tariana Turia, founder of Te Pāti Māori and fierce advocate of a smokefree Aotearoa.

Other members include former Te Tai Tokerau MP Hone Harawira; Research Evaluation Consultancy director, Nan Wehipeihana; executive director of Arai Te Uru Whare Hauora, Donna Matahaere-Atariki MNZM; and Hāpai Te Hauora chief executive, Selah Hart.

“I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard mahi of smokefree champions past and present which has helped us get to where we are now,” Verrall said.

“I would also like to thank New Zealanders who have helped shape the plan by telling us what matters most to them.”

Director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the plan would be “transformational” for Aotearoa.

The smokefree goal

• The Smokefree goal is that by 2025 less than 5 per cent of New Zealanders will be smokers.

• This target was established in March 2011 in response to the recommendations of a landmark Parliamentary inquiry by the Māori Affairs select committee.

• Smoking rates are decreasing, but there are still significant inequities for Māori, Pacific peoples and those living in socioeconomically deprived areas.

• The current smoking rate of New Zealand adults is 13.4 per cent in 2019/2020, which has decreased from 16.6 per cent in 2014/15 15 and from 18.2 percent in 2011/12.

• The current Māori smoking rate is 31.4 per cent in 2019/20, which has decreased from 38.1 per cent in 2015/15, and 40.2 per cent in 2011/12.

• Māori women have New Zealand’s highest smoking rates, at 32 per cent. Māori men also have a disproportionately higher current smoking rate of 25 per cent.

• About 4500 to 5000 people die due to smoking tobacco products every year in New Zealand – about 12 to 13 deaths.

• Since that landmark Māori Affairs Committee Inquiry in 2010, more than 50,000 New Zealanders have died of smoking-related causes.

PM: Anti-vax GP ‘puts people at risk’

Asked about the anti-vax doctor in Kaiapoi issuing fake vaccine exemption certificates Ardern said: “I think everybody would be disappointed and upset to see a health professional undertaking activity such as this that puts people at risk”.

Ardern said the Ministry of Health was looking at it.

“If a medical professional is not vaccinated, they should not be operating.

“This appears to be the actions of some individuals here and we will be looking at ways of ensuring it can not be replicated.”

Asked about housing, Ardern said the heat in the market was unsustainable, and the levers that had been pulled were expected to have an effect – as indicated by the small increase in the numbers of first-home buyers in the market.

She said that included record consents, closing tax loopholes, and measures by the Reserve Bank, such as loan-to-value rations (LVRs).

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On vaccinations, Ardern said having read some of the reports from Pfizer the early suggestions were that the vaccination was having some effect against the Omicron variant.

Most countries were now requiring a third dose, because their initial rollouts had been earlier in the year. She said the Ministry of Health would be better placed to talk about it.

Asked about children’s vaccinations and polling showing a third of caregivers are still either not keen or unsure about vaccinating children aged 5-11, she hoped that would abate once the child vaccinations had gone through the MedSafe approval process and been considered by the technical advisory group.

James Porteous

James Porteous is an author, photographer and researcher. Clipper Media News is a daily publicatioin featuring news and views you can use.

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