NZ move against smoking watched as ‘game changer’

The world will be watching New Zealand closely as it prepares to consider legislation that will limit the sale of tobacco, in a bid to eventually phase out smoking altogether.

Under the proposed legislation that is expected to be put before Parliament early next year, anyone born after 2008 will not be able to buy cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime.

"We want to make sure young people never start smoking," said Ayesha Verrall, New Zealand's associate health minister, when announcing the implementation of the government's Smokefree 2025 Action Plan last week.

Under the plan, authorities aim to reduce the national smoking rate to below 5 percent by 2025, with a goal of eventually bringing it down to zero.

Doctors and health experts have welcomed the "world-leading "reforms, which will reduce access to tobacco and restrict nicotine levels in cigarettes.

If enacted as expected next year, people the age of 14 and under will not be allowed to legally purchase tobacco in New Zealand, with the legal smoking age rising each year.

A Maori advisory task force is being created to help achieve better outcomes for Maori indigenous people, while support measures will be prioritized to help current smokers quit and prevent people from lighting up in the first place.

As of now, 13 percent of New Zealand's adults smoke, while the rate is almost 29 percent among the indigenous Maori adult population. Maori people also have higher rates of disease and death.

According to the Health Ministry, smoking causes cancer for 1 in 4 and remains the leading cause of preventable death for the nation's 5 million people. The tobacco industry has been the target of lawmakers for more than a decade, but with little effect.

Natalie Walker, director of the Centre for Addiction Research at the University of Auckland, described the government's action plan as a "game changer" in the fight against smoking.

"New Zealand once again leads the world … this time with a cutting-edge smoke-free 2025 implementation plan," said Walker in an interview with China Daily.