Lawmakers are mulling plans to gradually increase the legal age at which people can buy tobacco products as New Zealand aims to become smoke-free by 2025.
In a consultation document, the government said: “A smoke-free generation policy would prohibit the sale, and the supply in a public place, of smoked tobacco products to new cohorts from a specified date.
“For example, if legislation commenced on 1 January 2022, then people younger than 18 years at that time or those born after 1 January 2004 would never be able to lawfully be sold smoked tobacco products.”
Associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said a “new approach” to smoking was needed as she warned that “business as usual ... won't get us there”.
The government is also considering a ban on filters, reducing the amount of nicotine in tobacco products and limiting the number of places where they can be bought.
Ministers are also considering setting a minimum price for tobacco products.
New Zealand's Cancer Society welcomed the proposals, saying they would help to reduce inequalities.
It said six shops on average were selling tobacco within a 10-minute walk of New Zealand secondary schools, and that there were four times more tobacco retailers in low-income communities where smoking rates are highest.
“This proposal goes beyond assisting people to quit. The government is demonstrating a commitment to preventing young people from starting to smoke and bring smoking rates down,” its chief executive, Lucy Elwood, said.
“These glaring inequities are why we need to protect future generations from the harms of tobacco,” said Ms Elwood. “Tobacco is the most harmful consumer product in history and needs to be phased out.”
New Zealand's right-wing ACT party criticised the proposals, saying they would disproportionately affect poor people.
“New Zealand smokers who can least afford it will spend more on their habit and in turn do harm to those around them if the government mandates lower nicotine,” the ACT's social development and children spokesperson, Karen Chhour, said in a statement.
Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for cutting smoking among the Maori people, said the changes would benefit his community, and that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country”.
Smoking rates are highest among MÄori and Pasifika New Zealanders, Mr Bradbrook said.
“For too long the tobacco industry has been addicting our people, fleecing them of their money before we have to bury them in urupa [burial grounds] all over this land,” he added.
“I am looking forward to truly making this a sunset industry in this corner of the world.”
According to the Cancer Society, tobacco smoking is a leading cause of preventable death for the Maori in New Zealand.