The End of Tobacco? How the NZ Cigarette Ban Could Be Coming to Australia

new zealand smoking ban

New Zealand has made the bold move to phase out the legal sale of tobacco by bringing in a new law that will prohibit anyone born after 2010 from buying cigarettes.

Coming into effect next year, the plan will see anyone alive now under the age of 14 barred from tobacco purchases for life in a bid to eventually phase out the use and sale of the products. It’s part of a broad and ambitious Smokefree 2025 plan that will also cut the number of shops able to sell cigarettes, as well as reduce the level of — and possibly remove — nicotine in cigarettes.

“We want to make sure young people never start smoking,” Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verall said.

“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers”.

It’s a strong move and one that puts the country just behind Bhutan, which has banned the sale of tobacco completely, in global tobacco regulation. The Netherlands also made headlines this year in announcing that they would stop allowing cigarettes to be sold in the country in 2024 while cities in California did similar at the start of this year.

While NZ’s move might seem radical, it’s not impossible that Australia could soon follow suit. Indeed, politicians and lobby groups are already working on a plan that would see Australia go down a similar path in the outlawing of tobacco.

Recently, the Victorian Cancer Council reported that 52.8% of respondents to its survey would support the phasing out of cigarette sales while the Australian Council on Smoking and Health called on parties in the Western Australian state election to commit to ending tobacco sales by 2030. In 2012, the Tasmanian parliament also considered ending tobacco sales to anyone born after the year 2000, with a parliamentary committee finding “no significant legal impediment” to the idea.

Australia’s national preventative health strategy is currently going through revision and review, with a draft target to reduce smoking levels to below 5% by the year 2030. This is unlikely to be able to be achieved through industry self-regulation and governments would need to take stronger action, like outlawing cigarette sales, in order to reach that target.

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Health recently told The Guardian that strategies to limit both supply and demand of tobacco are being considered by the government, but that the regulation of tobacco sales is a state issue.

Australia has a strong legacy of tobacco control. In 2012, we became the first nation in the world to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, removing them from sight at retailers, and increasingly limiting the public areas in which tobacco can be consumed including in restaurants and venues.

Regulation of course does come with its downsides. Banning the sale of illicit drugs has done nothing to prevent the spread and use of them so why would we expect tobacco regulation to work in the same way? The minor right-wing party ACT New Zealand has said that “prohibition has never worked” and that outlawing cigarette sales will create a “black market for tobacco, with no standards or regulation, and people will be harmed.”

It’s true that tobacco, as a plant, can be fairly easily grown and processed into cigarettes. Here in Australia, demand for illegally produced tobacco known as ‘chop-chop’ is on the rise as high prices drive consumers underground.

However, tobacco has much safer alternatives to wean people off of cigarettes in the form of vaping which is rapidly growing in popularity. Many of those who try vaping end up quitting cigarettes as the delivery of nicotine, which is what people are really after when they smoke cigarettes, as it’s given in a far safer and enjoyable way.

While the move to outlaw cigarettes in Australia may still be some way off, it’s clear that the days of the humble ciggie are numbered. With both internal pressure, in the form of cigarette smokers quitting or turning to vaping, and external pressure, in the form of regulation, now weighing heavily on tobacco, it’s clear that the future is likely to be one in which the scent of cigarettes is a distant memory.

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