Global experts express shock over New Zealand’s u-turn on smoking ban

New Delhi, Nov 27 (IANS) Global health experts have expressed shock over New Zealand government’s plans to scrap its world-leading smoking ban to fund tax cuts.

In 2022, the Jacinda Ardern-led government banned cigarette sales to anyone born after 2008 in the country. The legislation aimed at preventing thousands of smoking-related deaths.

However, the new finance minister Nicola Willis said the measures will be axed before March 2024, with the revenue from cigarette sales going towards the coalition’s tax cuts.

The experts believe axing plan to block sales of tobacco products to next generation will cost thousands of lives.

“We are appalled and disgusted… this is an incredibly retrograde step on world-leading, absolutely excellent health measures,” Prof Richard Edwards, a tobacco control researcher and public health expert at the University of Otago, was quoted as saying to the BBC.

“Most health groups in New Zealand are appalled by what the government’s done and are calling on them to backtrack,” he added.

According to New Zealand Prime minister Christopher Luxon, the reversal would prevent a hidden tobacco market cropping up and stop shops from being targeted for crime.

“Concentrating the distribution of cigarettes in one store in one small town is going to be a massive magnet for crime,” Luxon was quoted as saying to Radio New Zealand.

“The suggestion that tax cuts would be paid by people who continue to smoke is absolutely shocking,” Emeritus Prof Robert Beaglehole, chair of New Zealand’s Action for Smokefree 2025 committee told Pacific Media Network.

Luxon has said his government would continue to lower smoking rates through education and other smoking policies.

The anti-smoking group Health Coalition Aotearoa has expressed disappointment in the new coalition’s plans to repeal the smoking ban. Experts noted that the policy reversal could also cost up to 5,000 lives a year, and be particularly detrimental to Maori, who have higher smoking rates.

“This is a major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry — whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” Professor Lisa Te Morenga, the chair of Health Coalition Aotearoa, said in a statement.

New Zealand’s laws were believed to have inspired the UK government in September to announce a similar smoking ban for young people. A spokeswoman said Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s position remained unchanged after New Zealand’s reversal, the BBC reported.

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