Why Are New Zealands’s New Anti-Smoking Proposals Controversial?

Researchers first identified cigarettes as a health hazard in the 1940s and by the 1950s studies of epidemiology, cellular pathology and chemistry confirmed that cigarettes could cause lung problems, heart disease and even cancer. Over the years different countries have tried different strategies to reduce smoking among the population. Worldwide, 45% of the world’s population was estimated to have been smoking in 1954 while today that figure stands at 19%.

In New Zealand the amount of tobacco smoked per person decreased by 39% between 2008 and 2018. Fewer people are smoking in New Zealand but health officials note that the number of NZ smokers is still unacceptably high among Maori and Pacific peoples.

Kiwi online casinos support local health officials who are proposing that the country embark on a new protocol to limit cigarettes to young people and keep those limits in place as the younger generation ages. According to the proposal submitted by Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verall, from 2023 and onward, anyone under the age of 15 in 2023 would be barred from buying cagarettes for life.

Current smokers can continue to buy cigarettes. But the smoking age will be raised gradually, year by year, until it covers the entire population. In effect, says Verall, “we want to make sure that young people never start smoking.”

Mixed Reactions

Health experts, doctors and other anti-smoking forces welcome the reforms which will also restrict nicotine levels in cigarettes. Prof Janet Hook from the University of Otago says “It will help people quit or switch to less harmful products, and make it much less likely that young people get addicted to nicotine.”

Not everyone is enthused. Some worry that the move may create a black market for cigarettes and other tobacco products. Sunny Kaushal, chairman of the Dairy and BusinessOwners Group, a lobby group for local convenience stores, spoke to New Zealand Stuff saying, “This is all 100% theory and 0% substance. There’s going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap”.

National Goal

The stated goal of the new restrictions is to put in place a mechanism that will reduce the national smoking rate to 5% by 2025. In the best-case scenario it will be entirely eliminated.

According to Dr. Verall, smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand.

In addition to the plan to restrict access to purchases, the government plans to introduce additional controls including restricting where cigarettes can be sold so that they aren’t readily available at supermarkets and corner kiosks. Currently, approximately 8000 vendors sell cigarettes – that is to be reduced to 500 or less.

Observers believe that the policy could really represent the “endgame” in the fight against tobacco. Geoffrey Fong, researcher on tobacco policy at Ontario Canada’s University of Waterloo said “ “New Zealand’s package in the endgame is an extraordinary and far-reaching set of measures that have always been talked about but never implemented. That’s very exciting and potentially very powerful for the world.”

Opposition

Opposition to the new measures comes from smokers but also from corner stores and gas stations that are to be eliminated as cigarette vendors. Dairy and Business Owners Group’s chairman Sunny Kaushal told The Associated Press that he believed that the country could find another way to eliminate smoking without “destroying dairies, lives and families in the process.”

Watching Closely

Health policymakers and tobacco researchers from around the world are excitedly watching New Zealand’s experiment to see if it could be replicated elsewhere.

Wael Al-Delaimy, an epidemiologist at the University of California San Diego noted that “This would be an amazing example or a template — like an experiment, right? If it works there, then definitely there is a chance it will work elsewhere.”  Many observers are encouraging New Zealand to maximize the opportunity by making sure that other tobacco reduction measures accompany the restriction in order to maximize effectiveness. “Tobacco is a very powerful, addictive substance. So if you ban this without a well-thought-out plan, without all the resources, it could have the backlash of black market smuggling and so on. That’s real,” Al-Delaimy added.

“Whenever you’re the first country, you don’t truly know what’s going to happen,” commented Geoffrey Fong. “But if there is strong evaluation… then that’s going to open the doors for a lot of other countries to consider some or all of those policies there.”

Cigarettes in New Zealand are already heavily taxed. A pack of cigarettes costs roughly USD $20 and some are worried that the already thriving black market in cigarettes can only benefit.

Is New Zealand Unique?

Can other nations replicate what New Zealand is trying to do? New Zealand has a number of unique characteristics that may give it an edge in such a program. Fong notes that the country’s liberal policies and island geography may help it maintain such a tough stance.

When compared to the United States, for example, where smoking bans at the federal level are few and far between and most anti-smoking law are at a state or municipal level, it’s hard to imagine such a draconian ban surviving pushback from the American ideal of personal freedom of choice, even when that freedom is known to produce negative results. In fact, there are no indoor smoking bans at all in many states.

UCSD researcher Al-Delaimy worked and lived in New Zealand for 5 years and it was his research about the effects of second-hand smoke on bar employees that the Ministry of Health referenced when it passed its indoor smoking ban in the early 2000s.

Al-Delaimy said that there would definitely be court challenges on grounds of unconstitutionality to such an attempt. In addition, it would be possible for one state to effect a ban and a neighboring state – or even tribes within the state with the ban — to sell freely to those coming from areas with a ban to open up a huge black market.

“It’s not an easy fix or a light switch to say, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ It means a lot of support from communities, government and the tobacco control community,” Al-Delaimy said. “To have an example in New Zealand is going to really help this discussion go forward.”