Monday, November 27, 2023
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SHOCKING: Why New Zealand lifted landmark SMOKING ban putting Gen Alpha at risk?

The legislation, introduced under Jacinda Ardern, aimed to prohibit cigarette sales to youth born after 2008

Web Desk
New Zealands U-turn: Government faces backlash for scrapping landmark smoking ban.—BBC/file
New Zealand's U-turn: Government faces backlash for scrapping landmark smoking ban.—BBC/file

New Zealand's newly-elected government has ignited controversy by announcing its intention to overturn the nation's pioneering smoking ban, citing plans to use the funds for tax cuts.

The legislation, initially introduced under the previous Jacinda Ardern-led government, aimed to prohibit cigarette sales to individuals born after 2008, with the objective of curbing the leading cause of preventable deaths in the country.

Health experts strongly criticise the abrupt policy reversal, with Prof Richard Edwards from the University of Otago condemning it as a "retrograde step on world-leading, absolutely excellent health measures."

The legislation, acclaimed internationally, incorporated measures such as restricting tobacco retailers and reducing nicotine levels, with modelling suggesting potential annual savings of up to 5,000 lives.

While the Smokefree laws received praise as a robust public health policy, opposition surfaced from business groups and lawmakers concerned about revenue loss and the potential emergence of a black market for tobacco. The surprise announcement by new Finance Minister Nicola Willis to repeal the laws shocked experts who anticipated the policy's continuity.

Willis attributes the reversal to National's coalition partners, New Zealand First and Act, insisting on overturning the laws. The National Party, which secured victory in the October election, had not prominently featured the Smokefree laws during their campaign.

The delay in policy negotiations with minor parties and the rejection of a flagship policy on foreign property ownership led to the government's reassessment of funding sources.

Critics argue that the suggestion of funding tax cuts through continued smoking is "shocking," and health professionals express concern over the impact on the health and well-being of New Zealanders.

The Māori population, with the highest smoking rates, would have seen substantial benefits from the now-repealed policy. Public health modelling estimated that the Smokefree policy could save NZ$1.3 billion over the next two decades.

Despite the recent setback, New Zealand's commitment to reducing the national smoking rate to 5% by 2025 remains. The repeal process requires parliamentary approval, where the government holds a majority.

The unexpected policy shift has prompted a broader discussion on public health priorities and the financial trade-offs involved in decision-making.