The new government of New Zealand has decided to remove the world-leading rule that prohibits smoking for future generations. This decision is being made in order to assist in the payment of tax cuts. Public health officials are of the opinion that this action would result in the loss of thousands of lives and will be “catastrophic” for Māori communities.
The country passed a groundbreaking piece of legislation in 2022 that initiated a gradually increasing smoking age. The purpose of this legislation was to prevent anybody born after January 2009 from ever being able to legally purchase cigarettes. The legislation was drafted with the intention of preventing thousands of fatalities that were caused by smoking and saving the health system billions of dollars.
There were a number of other measures included in the legislation that were designed to make smoking less economical and accessible. It is believed that this legislation was the impetus for a strategy in the United Kingdom to eliminate smoking for future generations. A significant reduction in the quantity of nicotine that is permitted to be present in tobacco products, the restriction of their sale to only specialized tobacco stores, and the reduction of the number of establishments that are legally permitted to sell cigarettes from 6,000 to just 600 across the country were all included in this proposal.
Beginning in July of 2024, the legislation were scheduled to go into effect. National, however, has committed to rescind the amendments as part of the coalition deal it has reached with the populist New Zealand First party. This includes “removing requirements for de-nicotization, removing the reduction in retail outlets, and the generation ban.”
Nicola Willis, the new minister of finance, announced on Saturday that the measures will be eliminated before March 2024. She also stated that the cash from the sale of cigarettes will be used to fund the tax cuts that the coalition is proposing. As a result of the fact that National’s coalition partner, New Zealand First, did not accept a proposal to allow foreign buyers to once again participate in the housing market, National has been forced to find new means to finance its tax plan.
Willis told Newshub Nation that the Treasury’s pre-election fiscal update stated that decreasing the number of stores that could sell tobacco products and the range of limitations would result in a considerable reduction in revenue for the crown.
This brings us back to those additional sources of revenue and other areas of savings that will assist us in funding the reduction in taxes. It is important to keep in mind that the modifications to the smoke-free legislation had a considerable impact on the books of the government, with around one billion dollars being impacted negatively.
The coalition partners Act and New Zealand First, according to Willis, have been “insistent” in their efforts to reverse the limits.
Christopher Luxon, the Prime Minister, stated that the reversal would prevent the establishment of a covert tobacco market and would also prevent shops from being targeted by people who commit crimes.
The distribution of cigarettes in a single store in a single tiny town is going to be a major magnet for criminal activity, according to what Luxon said in an interview with Radio New Zealand.
Through education and other smoking policies, Luxon stated that his government would continue to work toward reducing the number of people who smoke.
However, experts in public health have expressed their disbelief and dismay at the policy change, stating that it has the potential to cost up to 5,000 lives annually and would be especially devastating to Māori, who generally have higher rates of smoking.
“This is a major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry – whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” said Professor Lisa Te Morenga, the chair of the non-government industry group Health Coalition Aotearoa. “This is a huge win for the tobacco industry.”
Te Morenga brought attention to recent modeling that demonstrated that the regulations would cut mortality rates by 22% for women and 9% for men if they were completely implemented. Additionally, the implementation of the regulations would save $1.3 billion in costs to the health system over the next 20 years.
According to Te Morenga, “Reversing the tide on harmful products that are deeply ingrained in society is not something that can be accomplished by individuals or even communities.” “It requires policies at the population level that are in both good and brave.”
“This move suggests a disregard for the voices of the communities that are most affected by the harm that tobacco causes, favoring economic interests,” said Jason Alexander, the chief executive officer of the company.