New Zealand's Recent Government Reverses Anti-Tobacco Legislation

Thu 29th Feb, 2024

Image by Gerd Altmann from PixabayNew Zealand's newly-elected conservative government, led by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, has overturned the anti-tobacco laws implemented by the previous left-wing administration. This decision, reached through an urgent parliamentary procedure on Thursday night local time, has stirred controversy, particularly among health experts.

The coalition government, including the populist NZ First party, unveiled its intention to repeal the anti-tobacco legislative package shortly after assuming office last November. The move is part of a broader plan that aims to finance promised tax cuts.

Under the leadership of former Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the Labour-led government had introduced a groundbreaking law at the end of 2022. The legislation prohibited individuals born after 2009 from purchasing tobacco for their entire lives, effectively creating a lifelong ban on tobacco sales for this demographic. The objective was to discourage young people from initiating smoking.

The law also included provisions for reducing the nicotine content in cigarettes and limiting the number of tobacco sales outlets. The ambitious goal was to make New Zealand predominantly smoke-free by 2025, recognizing smoking as the leading cause of preventable deaths in the country. The gradual enforcement of these laws was scheduled to commence from July of this year.

Deputy Health Minister Casey Costello emphasized the significant decline in smoking rates in New Zealand in recent years and expressed the government's commitment to building on successful tools and approaches. However, the current administration criticized the Labour government's "prohibitionist" approach, arguing that it disregarded the effectiveness of existing smoking cessation initiatives.

Reacting to the repeal, researchers from the University of Otago's ASPIRE Aotearoa Research Center termed the decision "shameful." They stressed the importance of scientists supporting the Labour government's objectives, claiming that the repeal puts thousands of lives at risk annually, especially among the Maori population, who have a higher smoking rate and are more susceptible to tobacco-related illnesses.

Andrew Waa, co-director of the ASPIRE Aotearoa Research Center, pointed out the higher smoking rates among New Zealand's indigenous people and their vulnerability to tobacco-related health issues. Waa highlighted recent opinion polls indicating strong public support for the now-repealed laws.

Critics, including the non-governmental organization Health Coalition Aotearoa, expressed concerns about the influence of the tobacco industry on the government's decision. They accused the coalition parties, known for their close ties to the industry, of prioritizing tobacco industry profits over the health of New Zealanders, labeling it as "completely irresponsible." The repeal has sparked a renewed debate on the balance between individual freedoms and public health in the context of tobacco control.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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