New Zealand legislators have vowed to break the “disgusting and bizarre” hold of cigarette companies, introducing world-first legislation that will stop the next generation from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes.
On Tuesday the government introduced its new laws to try to create a smoke-free generation, installing a steadily rising purchasing age so that teenagers will never be able to legally purchase cigarettes. The new measures, which were debated in parliament, are considered a world first – and have attracted a mixture of praise for innovation and concerns at their untested nature. As well as the shifting smoking age, they would dramatically reduce the nicotine in cigarettes, and force them to only be sold through specialty tobacco stores, rather than corner stores and supermarkets.
“For decades we have permitted tobacco companies to maintain their market share by making their deadly product more and more addictive. It is disgusting and it is bizarre. We have more regulations in this country on the safety of the sale of a sandwich than on a cigarette,” said the associate minister of health, Ayesha Verrall, as she introduced the law for its first reading.
“Our priority in bringing this bill is protecting what is precious: our people, our whānau [families], our communities.”
The bill is at its first reading, and had near-universal cross-party support to pass through to select committee – the next stage of the legislative process, where MPs hear from expert and public submissions. The law is expected to come into effect in 2023. The rules target only tobacco products, and vaping will remain legal.
Opposition National MP Matt Doocey said while the party would be supporting the bill at this stage, they had concerns about its experimental nature.
“Most of the measures being considered have yet to be widely implemented internationally, and in some cases, New Zealand would be the first in the world to implement them,” Doocey said. “I don’t have a problem that New Zealand is going to be the first in the world,” he said, but the policy’s untested nature meant there was “significant uncertainty in the outcomes”.
The Green party also supported the bill’s passage to select committee, but raised concerns about criminal prohibition pushing the industry underground. “The Greens have some serious concerns about the potential for a new kind of criminal prohibition,” said MP Chlöe Swarbrick. She also raised concerns about denicotinisation: “It’s untested, from my understanding, anywhere and, therefore, it is going to need some serious, robust kicking around.”
The libertarian Act party was the only party to oppose the bill at first reading.