Sydney, Australia, Dec 9 (EFE).- New Zealand on Thursday launched plans to create a “smokefree generation” by introducing legislation so that those aged 14 and under will never legally be allowed to buy tobacco.
“This is a historic day for the health of our people,” Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
Among the measures in the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan launched in parliament is new legislation that will each year increase the legal age for buying cigarettes, which currently stands at 18 years.
“We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offense to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco,” Verrall said.
“As they age, they and future generations will never be able to purchase tobacco, because the truth is there is no safe age to start smoking.”
In another bill to be introduced in 2022, “the appeal, addictiveness and availability of smoked tobacco products” will be reduced – only products with very low levels of nicotine will be sold and the number of retailers able to sell tobacco will be significantly reduced.
The action plan seeks to reduce tobacco use to less than 5 percent of New Zealanders by 2025.
Official figures indicate that tobacco is the cause of death for up to 5,000 people a year in the country, accounting for 15 percent of all deaths.
While smoking rates are decreasing, “there are still significant inequities for Maori, Pacific peoples and those living in socioeconomically deprived areas,” according to the Ministry of Health.
The smoking rate of New Zealand adults was 13.4 percent in 2019/2020, while the Maori smoking rate over the same period was 31.4 percent.
The government has ruled out further tax hikes, saying that it “recognizes that going further will not help people quit, it will only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit.”
“While smoking rates are heading in the right direction, we need to do more, faster to reach our goal. If nothing changes, it would be decades till Maori smoking rates fall below 5 percent, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind,” Verrall said.