New Zealand's new coalition government has signaled plans to scrap the previous administration's anti-smoking policies, and will instead support age-appropriate access to nicotine products.
Health organizations in the country have called the move "extremely disappointing" and have urged the new government to stick with smoke-prevention policies.
New Zealand's Labour-led government had introduced amendments that from 2027 would have made it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after 2008. It would also have significantly reduced the number of retail outlets permitted to sell tobacco, starting from 2024. Additionally, the policies aimed at the 'de-nicotization' of cigarettes, with plans to ban the sale of high-nicotine smoking tobacco products from 2025.
However, the new National Party-led coalition government, which defeated the incumbent left-wing Labour Party in general elections last month, has said it will repeal these amendments by March. It has also vowed to change vaping product requirements and apply tax only to smoked products.
The policy-reversal was campaigned for by the New Zealand First party, which has come out in support of "age-appropriate access to nicotine," arguing that the addictive chemical is generally as safe as caffeine when consumed by adults.
Comment: Finally treating adults like adults.
The new government's decision has been condemned by the country's Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), which said the repeal of anti-smoking legislation would cost thousands of lives. It will also have the greatest effect on the country's Maori population, which has the highest rates of smoking (19%), HCA co-chair Professor Lisa Te Morenga said.
"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," said HCA co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn.
He added that recent research had suggested that the labor government's smoke-free policies would have saved New Zealand a total of $790 million over the next 20 years if fully implemented, and would have reduced all-cause mortality rates by 22% for women and 9% for men.
New Zealand's reversal on smoke-free policies comes as many nations have instead been implementing increasingly stricter regulations on tobacco and vaping products, including countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.
In the UK, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signaled last month that his government was looking to ban cigarette sales to anyone born after January 1, 2009, in order to create the first "smoke-free generation." The plan aims to completely phase out smoking in young people by 2040, eventually eliminating the habit nationwide.