9 Dec 2021

Smokefree action plan: Cigarette sales to be banned for younger generations

12:24 pm on 9 December 2021

New laws will ensure young people will never legally purchase cigarettes, with the age of a ban on sales rising each year, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall says.

Watch the announcement here:

New Zealand would be the first country in the world to take such a step.

Dr Verrall, who previously worked as an infectious diseases expert, announced the government's Smokefree 2025 Action Plan after public consultation this year on proposals to meet the government's goal of making New Zealand smokefree by 2025.

The plan noted about a third of submissions during the consultation - 33.0 percent - were made by those with a link to the tobacco industry.

She said the sale and supply of cigarettes to people aged 14 would be outlawed from the time the law came into effect, with the age rising each year.

"People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco," she said.

"As they age, they and future generations will never be able to purchase tobacco, because the truth is there is no safe age to start smoking."

The government plans to have a bill supporting the changes introduced by June 2022, then passed by December that year to take effect in 2023.

It would likely mean anyone born after 2009 would be unable to buy cigarettes in perpetuity, though the exact timing would be set down in the legislation and subject to consultation.

Another bill would be introduced in 2022 to "allow only very low nicotine levels in smoked tobacco products for manufacture, importation, distribution and sale".

Retailers would also have to be authorised, and the number of retailers who could sell tobacco significantly reduced, with a focus on ensuring sales are not concentrated in deprived areas.

"New laws will mean only smoked tobacco products containing very low levels of nicotine can be sold, with a significant reduction in the number of shops who can sell them," Verrall said.

Vape retailers would also need to first inform the Director-General of Health, and the government would fund a programme aimed at preventing young people from taking up vaping.

These laws would be supported by a new Smokefree 2025 Taskforce and an increase in the number of smokefree enforcement officers.

The overall action plan has six focus areas:

  • Ensure Māori leadership and decision-making
  • Increase health promotion and community mobilisation
  • Increase evidence-based stop smoking services
  • Reduce the addictiveness and appeal of smoked tobacco products
  • Reduce the availability of smoked tobacco products
  • Ensure manufacturers, importers and retailers meet their legal obligations

These were aimed at achieving the overall goal of reducing the number of people who smoke daily to 5 percent of all population groups in New Zealand.

Reducing inequity and shifting away from taxation focus

Verrall said the government wanted to make sure young people never start smoking - particularly for Māori - but tax had done all it could.

"We've already seen the full impact of excise tax increases. The government recognises that going further will not help people quit."

She said the changes would save lives and increase Māori life expectancy, "and we cannot put a price on that".

Māori and Pacific people are disproportionately represented in smoking mortality statistics, the plan noted.

Ministry of Health data show lung cancer is the leading cause of death for Māori women, and mortality for lung cancer is four times higher among Māori women than in non-Māori women.

Lung cancer is also the second-leading cause of death for Māori men.

"By going smokefree we could live in a country where our tamariki spend more quality years with their tūpuna, we reduce the number of high-risk pregnancies, strong and healthy babies are born at term, fewer people are in hospital with smoking-related diseases and people have more money to spend on the things they need and enjoy," Verrall said.

"Like every doctor I have hundreds of stories about people who smoke but one stands out," she says. "Shane came to my clinic, he was a nurse at the hospital and had a wicked sense of humour ... he knew smoking would kill him especially with his underlying condition."

"He had every reason in the world to quit but couldn't because tobacco is one of the most addictive and harmful substances in the world."

Verrall said Māori leadership would be crucial to the success of the plan, and Covid-19 has shown what could be done when everyone worked together towards one public health goal.

"Communities and Hauora providers have mobilised and made a remarkable difference on the ground and we want to build on that momentum to achieve our smokefree goal."

"These changes will save lives and could increase Māori life expectancy and we cannot put a price on that."

Dr Bloomfield welcomes Taskforce

Dr Ashley Bloomfield told those at the announcement the journey towards becoming a smokefree nation was an aspiration "that many of us have held for some years".

He said he was delighted by the taskforce that had been put together, saying it was incredibly important that Māori could exercise tino rangatiratanga and mana motuhake in planning and decision making in health services, especially in this kaupapa.

The taskforce members include Dame Tariana Turia, Hone Harawira, Nan Wehipeihana, Donna Matahaere-Atariki, and Selah Hart.

"They have deep connections to communities across Aotearoa and will make a huge difference in supporting us and holding us to account and making sure we all deliver on this aspiration."

He said it could be seen however by responses around the world to the pandemic that "you can have all the best people, all the best services, all the money and all the preparation but if you don't have strong political leadership in public health then very little happens and we've been fortunate in this country that at critical times we've had very strong political leadership".

It was great to see that once again resulting in what would be a transformational change to New Zealand's approach to tobacco, Dr Bloomfield said.

Minister Ayesha Verrall handed over a mauri stone for the kaupapa to Nan Wehipeihana.

Wehipeihana said the vision was of wellbeing "for our tamariki, for our mokopuna, but also for ourselves - a vision where we do not have to go into environments and be surrounded by smoke, where our children, our tamariki mokopuna don't have to walk past places and spaces with advertising that screams out to them".

Read the Ministry's background on the taskforce members