New Zealand ditches smoking ban to fund tax cuts

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WELLINGTON:  New Zealand’s newly-elected government has reversed a ground-breaking smoking ban initially aimed at saving lives and preventing youth from taking up smoking, CNN reported.

The move has sparked outrage among public health officials and anti-tobacco groups, who are dismayed by the decision to abandon the ban to finance tax cuts.

Enacted a year ago, the anti-smoking law prohibited the sale of tobacco to individuals born on or after January 1, 2009, with implementation scheduled for July 2024, accompanied by severe penalties, including fines up to NZD 150,000 (NZD 96,000) for violations, as reported by CNN.

Prime Minister Chris Luxon, from the conservative National Party, now leading a coalition with the populist New Zealand First party and the libertarian ACT New Zealand party, justified the reversal, citing disagreement with certain aspects of the policy and expressing concerns about a potential surge in the black market for tobacco. Luxon emphasised that his administration is committed to reducing tobacco use, pointing to declining smoking rates in the country.

In conversation with CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand, Luxon said his government would continue education programmes and “encourage people to take up vapes as a cessation tool.”

The initial smoking ban in New Zealand received global acclaim from public health officials. Despite the recent policy reversal, the British government reaffirmed its commitment to phasing out smoking for new generations.

Finance Minister Nicola Willis disclosed that the measures would be revoked before March 2024, with revenue generated from cigarette sales redirected towards tax cuts. Smoking, a global cause of over eight million deaths annually, according to the World Health Organisation, remains a pervasive issue, with one in four people worldwide using tobacco.

While smoking rates in New Zealand were already among the world’s lowest and declining, the decision to rescind the ban drew sharp criticism from public health officials and anti-tobacco groups.

Former health minister Ayeshea Verrall told CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand that reversing the ban “flew in the face” of the previous government and would set the country back a long way.

“What’s going on here is that we had a set of measures that would have substantially reduced smoking, was modelled to save 80,000 lives and they’ve (the new government) have reversed it – and they’re doing it just to fund tax cuts,” Verrall said.

Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), an anti-smoking group, expressed disappointment, stating that the repeal favoured the tobacco industry at the expense of Kiwi lives.

“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,” the group said in a statement, adding, “Turning the tide on harmful products that are entrenched in society cannot be done by individuals or even communities. It takes good – and brave – population level policies,” CNN reported. (ANI)

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