New Zealand on Thursday announced plans to ban anyone born after 2008 from ever being able to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products in the country as part of a broader effort to completely phase out smoking in the island nation by 2025.
The proposed legislation, which is expected to become law next year, will gradually raise the smoking age over decades until it covers the entire population.
People who already smoke will be allowed to continue to do so, but nicotine levels in available tobacco products will be reduced and the number of retailers authorized to sell cigarettes could be cut drastically, according to the legislation.
“This is a historic day for the health of our people,” Dr. Ayesha Verrall, associate health minister, said in a statement.
“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.”
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers, she added.
New Zealand first announced a goal of making the country smoke-free by 2025 in 2011. The government has hiked prices to among the highest in the world in an effort to discourage smoking, but Verrall said Thursday that further price increases wouldn’t have likely been effective.
“We’ve already seen the full impact of excise tax increases. The Government recognizes that going further will not help people quit, it will only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit,” she said.
Verrall added that the new measures will be phased in, giving retailers and other businesses time to adjust and land on a business model that will work in the new environment.
Shares of tobacco companies were seemingly unaffected by the announcement, with Philip Morris stock flat in premarket trading and shares of British American Tobacco up slightly despite a drop in the broader market.
More than 11 percent of all New Zealanders over age 15 currently smoke, according to government figures, and as many as 29 percent of the country’s Indigenous and largely poor Maori adults smoke.
The health ministry said it will launch a Maori health task force in the coming months before introducing legislation in June, with the goal of passing the bill by the end of 2022.
Critics of bans on tobacco products have frequently pointed to the emergence of black markets, saying that outlawing the products outrights empowers criminals and organized gangs.
The New Zealand government acknowledged that the latest measures could exacerbate the black market for cigarettes, saying it will conduct research on the size of the market and how the legislation could change it.