Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Veral said in a press conference on Thursday that the legal age to buy tobacco would be progressively raised under the proposed new law.
“We want to make sure youth never start smoking, so we will make it a crime to sell or supply smokeless tobacco products to new groups of youth,” she said. “People under the age of 14 when the law goes into effect will never be able to legally buy tobacco.”
The government plans to present it to parliament in 2022 as part of a campaign to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the community to less than 5% by 2025.
According to government statistics, 13.4% of New Zealand’s adult population is classified as smokers. This is down from 18.2% in 2011/12.
“Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers,” Veral said. “Smoking-related harm is particularly prevalent in our Māori, Pacific and low-income communities.”
According to the ministry, about 32% of Māori women smoke – the highest rate in the country. The rate for Māori males is 25%.
With the proposed legislation, the government will prioritize “practical support measures” for smokers to help them quit, Veral said.
These include ensuring that only products with very low nicotine levels can be manufactured, imported and sold, and strict restrictions on tobacco advertising. There will also be a significant reduction in the number of shops selling tobacco products.
The law does not cover vaping, which is popular among young people in New Zealand. A November report from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ found that with about 20% of students vaping daily, 57% felt it was adversely affecting their health.