New Zealand plans to prevent young people from ever buying cigarettes in their lives in one of the world's most brutal crackdowns on the tobacco industry, citing that other measures to eradicate smoking were taking too long.
People aged 14 and younger in 2027 will never be permitted to purchase cigarettes in the Pacific island of five million; part of proposals revealed on Thursday that will also reduce the number of outlets authorized to sell tobacco and cut nicotine levels in all products.
"We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth," New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
"If nothing changes, it would be decades till Maori smoking rates fall below 5pc, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind."
Currently, 11.6pc of all New Zealanders aged over 15 smoke, a number that climbs to 29pc among indigenous Maori adults, according to official estimates.
In the coming months, the government will consult with a Maori health task force before presenting legislation into parliament in June next year to make it law by the end of 2022.
The limits would then be phased out in stages from 2024, beginning with a steep fall in the number of permitted vendors, followed by lower nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of the "smoke-free" generation from 2027.
The combination of changes will make New Zealand's retail tobacco industry one of the most limited globally, just behind Bhutan, where cigarette sales are outlawed altogether. New Zealand's neighbors Australia was the first country in the world to adopt plain packaging of cigarettes in 2012.
The New Zealand government said while existing restrictions, including plain packaging and levies on sales, had lowered tobacco consumption, more substantial steps were necessary to meet its aim of fewer than 5pc of the population smoking daily by 2025.
The administration said the new laws would slash the country's smoking rates in as few as ten years from when they take effect.
Smoking kills over 5,000 people a year in New Zealand, making it one of the country's top causes of preventable death. The country's government reported that four in five smokers started before age 18.
Health authorities praised the action, while shopkeepers expressed concern about the impact on their companies and warned of the formation of a black market.
The administration did not disclose information about how the new laws would be policed or whether and how they would apply to tourists to the nation.
"Cigarette smoking kills 14 New Zealanders every day and two out of three smokers will die as a result of smoking," said New Zealand Medical Association chair Alistair Humphrey in a statement.
"This action plan offers some hope of realising our 2025 Smokefree Aotearoa goal, and keeping our tamariki (Maori children) smokefree."
However, the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for small convenience stores known in New Zealand as dairies, said. At the same time, it supported a smoke-free society; the government's proposal would ruin many companies.
"This is all 100% theory and 0% substance," the group's chairman, Sunny Kaushal, told Stuff.co.nz. "There's going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap with ciggie houses beside tinnie houses."