New Zealand’s reversal of smoking ban a setback for public health, say experts

PM Luxon argued that a ban could lead to a black market for tobacco

New Zealand smoking ban reversal Representative Image | Reuters

New Zealand’s plan to scrap the nation’s smoking ban was ‘shocking’ to most including those in the health. Health experts criticised its new plan and pointed out that it would be setback for public health and a win for the tobacco industry.

When the legislation was introduced under the former prime minister Jacinda Ardern-led government, the aim was to stop the young from picking up the habit. Under the policy, it would have banned cigarette sales next year to anyone born after 2008.

The sudden reversal of the policy was not just strongly criticised by the health experts but has also warned of the ill-effects it would have on the society.

"We are appalled and disgusted... this is an incredibly retrograde step on world-leading, absolutely excellent health measures," said Professor Richard Edwards, a tobacco control researcher and public health expert at the University of Otago told BBC.

The legislation passed last year included measures restricting the number of tobacco retailers, and reducing the level of nicotine in cigarettes.

New Zealand's laws were believed to have inspired the UK government in September to announce a similar smoking ban for young people.

New PM Luxon sworn in

Christopher Luxon was sworn in as New Zealand's prime minister on Monday and he said his top priority was to improve the economy.

Under the coalition agreement, Luxon has promised to deliver tax cuts and train 500 more police officers within two years.

He has also promised less government bureaucracy, including a 6.5 per cent cut to the public service.

Luxon said his government disagreed with parts of the policy, including concentrating distribution. He said smoking rates had been coming down for 30 years.

Luxon and some lawmakers had argued that a smoking ban would lead to a black market for tobacco.

The announcement was made on Saturday by new finance minister Nicola Willis that the government would repeal the laws. Willis said National's partners in the governing coalition- the populist New Zealand First libertarian Act- had been "insistent" on reversing the laws.

Even after the election, the centre-right National Party has struggled for weeks in policy negotiations to form a government with the two minor parties. It was only six weeks after the election that the new government was able sworn in on Monday.

The laws still need to be actively repealed through parliament, where the government has a majority.

A national Māori health organisation, Hāpai Te Hauora, called it an "unconscionable blow to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders".

Smoking rates and associated health issues has been a major problem for the indigenious Māori population, for whom experts had said the policy would have the most positive impact, reported BBC.

New Zealand still aims to reduce its national smoking rate by 5% by 2025, with the aim of eventually eliminating it altogether.

According to the national data, over 80,000 adults have quit smoking in the past year. 

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