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New Zealand Government Reverses Decision on Tobacco Ban Changes

The Act proposed changes that received criticism from the New Zealand Dairy and Business Group, who were concerned about the viability of their businesses.

After repealing the groundbreaking smoke-free legislation introduced by New Zealand’s previous Labour government, the National Party-led coalition is facing backlash from health providers.

This repeal was promised during the coalition’s campaign for the 2023 general election and has been swiftly executed as part of Prime Minister Chris Luxon’s 100-day plan. The government confirmed on Feb. 27 that the changes would be repealed urgently, bypassing public input and objections.

The first set of changes to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act was scheduled for implementation on July 1, aimed at reducing the number of retailers allowed to sell smoked tobacco products by 90 percent.

Another innovation, set for April 1, 2025, planned to decrease the permissible nicotine content in smoked tobacco products. A third amendment, slated for Jan. 1, 2027, intended to ban the sale of smoked tobacco products to individuals born on or after Jan. 1, 2009.

While generally supported by public opinion polls and health providers, the broad changes proposed by the Act faced criticism from the New Zealand Dairy and Business Group, a collective of convenience store retailers who feared that their ability to sell cigarettes and vaping products after 2025 could render their businesses unprofitable.

Sunny Kaushal, chair of the Dairy and Business Owners Group, expressed concerns in 2023 that cigarette sales accounted for about half of all sales in dairies, convenience stores, and petrol stations, and restrictions could lead to “thousands of businesses no longer being profitable.”

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Associate Health Minister Casey Costello (L) said the government is still committed to reducing smoking in New Zealand. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)
Associate Health Minister Casey Costello (L) said the government is still committed to reducing smoking in New Zealand. (Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello stated that the government is dedicated to reducing smoking but will adopt a different regulatory approach to discourage the habit and reduce its harms.

She noted that the previous government’s abstinence approach to smoking was unlikely to be effective as planned.

“The previous government was moving towards an untested regime that did not consider the effectiveness of quit smoking initiatives and the negative consequences of taking a prohibitionist stance towards smokers, retailers, and crime,” she explained.

Ms. Costello emphasized that the new policies would be comprehensive.

“I will present a set of measures to the cabinet soon to enhance the tools available for smoking cessation,” she stated, adding that regulations on vaping would also be tightened to deter youth.

The decision has been met with disapproval from those working to reduce smoking rates and provide healthcare to those disproportionately impacted by the hazards of smoking.

In New Zealand, Maori people represent 17.1 percent of all smokers and are 3.3 times more likely to smoke compared to non-Maori. Over 20 percent of adult Maori individuals smoke.

The Health Coalition Aotearoa described the repeal as “shameful.”

“The tobacco industry will celebrate their victory in influencing government coalition parties, which all have significant connections to the industry, to pursue their agenda of keeping 284,000 smokers addicted to their products for as long as possible,” said Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA) co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn.

“Prioritizing the profits of the tobacco industry over the health of New Zealanders is highly irresponsible.”

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