WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand passed legislation Tuesday with an unusual strategy of phasing out tobacco by imposing a permanent ban on young people buying cigarettes.
The law states that tobacco may never be sold to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.
That implies that the minimum age to buy cigarettes will go up every year. In theory, someone trying to buy a pack of cigarettes 50 years from now will have to show identification showing she is at least 63 years old.
But health authorities are confident that consumption will disappear much sooner. Their stated goal is to make New Zealand tobacco free by 2025.
The new law also reduces the number of vendors authorized to sell tobacco, from about 6,000 to 600, and reduces the amount of nicotine allowed in smoked tobacco.
“There is no good reason to allow the sale of a product that kills half the people who consume it,” Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall told lawmakers in Parliament. “And I can tell you that we will end this in the future, by passing this legislation.”
The health system, he said, will save billions of dollars by not having to treat diseases caused by smoking, such as cancer, heart attacks, strokes and amputations. The law will create a generational shift and leave a legacy of better health for young people, he added.
Parliamentarians stuck to their party lines in approving the rule by a vote of 76 in favor and 43 against.
The libertarian ACT party, which opposed the measure, said many neighborhood businesses would go out of business because they could no longer sell cigarettes.
“We oppose this bill because it’s a bad bill and it’s bad policy, it’s that plain and simple,” said Brooke van Velden, ACT number two. “There will be no benefits for New Zealanders.”
The parliamentarian struck out the rule as a “nanny state ban” and said it would end up creating a huge black market. Prohibition has never worked and has always ended with unintended consequences, she said.
The law does not cover vaping, which is already more popular than smoking tobacco in New Zealand.
Eight per cent of New Zealand adults smoke daily, down from 16 per cent ten years ago, the New Zealand Statistics Agency said last month. For their part, 8.3% used e-cigarettes daily, compared to less than 1% six years ago.
The smoking rate continues to be highest among indigenous Maori, with approximately 20% of respondents smoking.
New Zealand already restricts cigarette sales to those over 18, requires explicit health warnings on packages and cigarettes are sold in standard wrappers.
In recent years, the country has also raised cigarette taxes significantly.
The rule was well received by several health agencies. The Aotearoa health coalition said the new law capped decades of hard-working activism by health and community organizations.