Public health alert! Experts concerned about the government’s decision on tobacco.

Public health alert! Experts concerned about the government’s decision on tobacco.
Anti-Tobacco Law

The newly elected government in New Zealand has scheduled the elimination of a law passed in 2022 that banned the younger generations from consuming cigarettes and other tobacco products. The proceeds from tobacco taxes will be used to finance the promised tax reduction by the new coalition, composed of the center-right National Party, the liberal ACT New Zealand, and the conservative and populist New Zealand First party. The decision has sparked criticism from doctors and public health experts, especially regarding the possible consequences on Maori indigenous communities, where smoking is widespread.

The law, passed over a year ago, included progressive bans on tobacco smoking, with the ultimate goal of prohibiting the purchase of cigarettes and similar products for people born after 2008. The measure also contained several restrictions to make cigarettes more expensive and less accessible. It was expected that the number of authorized shops selling tobacco products would decrease from approximately 6,000 to 600 throughout the country. The law had also introduced stringent limitations to reduce the amount of nicotine in products, the main substance responsible for addiction.

The new rules were supposed to come into effect by the following summer, but the law was called into question during the negotiations to form the new government, which lasted about six weeks after the uncertain outcome of the political elections on October 14th last year. The National Party, although the most voted for, did not obtain enough seats to govern independently, leading to the choice of negotiating an alliance with New Zealand First and ACT New Zealand.

In the long series of agreements reached in the government plan, the abolition of the anti-smoking law was decided in order to finance the tax reduction desired by the National Party, after ACT New Zealand opposed making the New Zealand real estate market accessible to foreign buyers. The new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, stated that the abolition of the law will prevent the expansion of the black market linked to cigarette sales and that the lack of reduction in points of sale will have positive effects on crime. During an interview, Luxon argued, “Concentrating the distribution of cigarettes in a single store in a small town will greatly reduce crime.”

However, Luxon did not provide data to support his statements, particularly regarding the increase in the black market and crime. An analysis on the effects of the new law had predicted savings of 1.3 billion New Zealand dollars (about 700 million euros) for the healthcare system over the next 20 years if all the new rules were to be implemented. A significant reduction in smoking-related mortality was also expected, with benefits especially in Maori communities, where the consumption of tobacco products is high and prevention and healthcare are often complex challenges.