As New Zealand unveils plans to ban the new generation from buying cigarettes, Maha El Akoum asks if this approach should be rolled out worldwide.
New Zealand has plans to ban the new generation of youth from ever buying cigarettes during their lifetime. This has been regarded as one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry in the history of time.
Once the law comes into full effect in 2027, people aged 14 and under at that time will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes in New Zealand. This, essentially, stops an entire generation of people from ever starting to smoke.
This comes as part of proposals that were unveiled last week that aim to curb tobacco usage through reducing the number of authorised sellers and reducing nicotine levels in all products across the board.
The restrictions are to be rolled out in stages, starting in 2023 and ending with the creation of the “smoke-free generation” in 2027.
As things currently stand, 11.6% of people aged over 15 in New Zealand smoke. According to government statistics, this proportion rises to 29% among indigenous Maori adults.
Smoking kills around 5,000 people a year in New Zealand, placing smoking as one of the country’s top causes of preventable death. In addition, statistics have revealed that four in five smokers in the country started smoking before the age of 18.
These new measures will rank New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry as one of the most restrictive in the world, second only to Bhutan where cigarette sales are banned altogether.
The New Zealand government referred to these measures as not only necessary, but crucial to achieving the goal of a smoking population of fewer than 5% by the year 2025. It is predicted that these new rules will reduce the country’s smoking rates by half within a decade from when they take effect.
However, these measures will not eradicate nicotine addiction completely, seeing as vaping devices (which are currently used by New Zealand teenagers two to three times more than smoked tobacco) will not be banned.
Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada and Sweden have also set goals for a smoke-free population by 2030. However, only New Zealand so far has implemented a coherent strategy to achieve them.
These proposals, expectedly, have drawn mixed reactions. Some argue that these aggressive measures will limit the scope of choice that this new generation of New Zealanders have. The outright ban of cigarette smoke will also run the risk of encouraging illegal consumption and lead to a rising stream of black-market revenue.
Other opponents of this smoking ban include the owners of New Zealand’s gas stations and small corner stores, known locally as “dairies”. Some have referred to the newly proposed ban as “dairygeddon” for stores that will now only be able to supply tobacco with low levels of nicotine- and many will have to close down.
However, experts agree that the benefits definitely outweigh the risks and tobacco researchers and health policymakers around the world hope that the New Zealand ban will act as a model for other countries to follow. The data collected from New Zealand will help inform other governments around the world considering similar measures.
What remains certain is that the decision to impose these measures is not easy and the move requires a lot of support from local communities, governments and the tobacco control community at large.
These wide-ranging bans, such as the one recently proposed in New Zealand should also be accompanied by other tobacco reduction measures for them to be truly effective and so as to soften the blow of the backlash of black-market smuggling.
Here in Qatar, no such plans have been announced, however, authorities have highlighted a growing trend of smokers wanting to quit.
Hamad Medical Corporation [HMC]’s Tobacco Control Centre saw a 300% surge in people visiting the facility to quit smoking during the pandemic, according to Dr Jamal Bashi, a smoking cessation specialist at HMC.
While the clinic used to receive around 1,000 smokers a month before the coronavirus pandemic, last year saw a huge increase in patients coinciding with the spread of Covid-19, a virus that can prove lethal to smokers in particular.
The number of those wanting to shed the habit rose to 3,000 patients a month, according to latest figures.
Maha El Akoum, MPH, is a public health professional currently working as Head of Content at World Innovation Summit for Health [WISH].