14 Dec 2022

Remaining tobacco outlets might become magnet for ram-raids, Nicola Willis says

2:34 pm on 14 December 2022
Side view of a pack of cigarettes with faded filter

Labour, Te Paati Maori and the Greens voted for the bill, with National and ACT opposed. Photo: 123RF

The National Party says the few stores still allowed to sell tobacco by the end of 2023 could find themselves the target of "a lot of ram-raids".

The government on Tuesday passed the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Bill, which mandates a 90 percent reduction in the number of outlets selling the addictive drug - from about 6000 now to no more than 600.

It also reduces the amount of nicotine in products, and prevents anyone born after 1 January, 2009, from ever being able to purchase tobacco legally.

Labour, Te Paati Maori and the Greens voted for the bill, with National and ACT opposed.

"Nicotine will be reduced to non-addictive levels and communities will be free from the proliferation and clustering of retailers who target and sell tobacco products in certain areas," Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said.

Just 8 percent of New Zealand adults are daily smokers, down from 9.4 percent a couple of years ago and less than half the rate seen in the mid-2000s.

National Party deputy leader Nicola Willis said on Wednesday while the party supported further reducing the number of Kiwis who smoke, the bill would accelerate the formation of an avoidable "black market".

"We think denicotisation of tobacco products should occur first, and then the phase-out from retail," she told Morning Report.

"As it stands, the proposal is to reduce the number of retailers for tobacco products from 6000 to 600 next year. That is… a dramatic reduction, and we worry that there hasn't first been an effort to address the demand for the nicotine in the products.

"We could therefore have a situation where we're seeing a lot of ram-raids on those 600 stores that remain, potentially the emergence of a severe black market, and we'd like to see the denicotisation first."

While youth crime has been falling for years, there has been a spike in ram-raids this year - mostly against small retail outlets.

Police say while cash appears to be the primary motivation, cigarettes - the prices of which have been progressively pushed up via regular tax hikes over the past decade - are also highly sought-after.

Willis said cutting the number of outlets before weaning smokers off their addiction could push them to "getting [cigarettes] from a gang or someone who stole them", instead of a "legal dairy".

Deputy Leader of National Party Nicola Willis

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Asked if this wasn't the same argument the tobacco industry is making, Willis said no - because National wants tobacco use to go down.

"I want to see its use reduce over time so that fewer New Zealanders suffer the harms of its effects. But I also live in the real world, and I want to make sure we do that in a way that is practical and doesn't just drive a black market."

Verrall has been contacted by RNZ for a response to Willis' comments.

The government has in recent months moved to tackle a perceived growth in crime - in November establishing a fog cannon subsidy and putting extra funding into fighting retail crime, and earlier this month fast-tracking interventions for repeat youth offenders.

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