New Zealand smoking ban: Health experts condemn new government's surprise ruling

In order to help finance tax cuts, the new government of New Zealand has announced it will repeal the country's world-leading smoking ban.

The bill, which was introduced during the previous government led by Jacinda Ardern, intended to prohibit the sale of cigarettes to individuals born after 2008 beginning next year.

In New Zealand, smoking is the leading preventable cause of mortality, and the policy's objective was to deter younger generations from developing the habit. The modification has stunned health experts.

According to public health modelling, the implementation of smokefree laws could potentially result in an annual life savings of 5,000.

It was described by Hāpai Te Hauora, a national Māori health organisation, as a "unconscionable strike to the health and wellbeing of all New Zealanders."

The indigenous Māori population of New Zealand has the greatest rates of smoking and is plagued by health problems and diseases associated with smoking. Experts had predicted that this group would benefit the most from the policy.

The legislation under consideration, which additionally forbade sales to juveniles, would have required the withdrawal of tobacco products from 90% of the existing retailers stocking them in New Zealand, in addition to instituting regulations to decrease the nicotine content of cigarettes. 

It is believed that the Smokefree policy implemented by the New Zealand government influenced the September announcement of a comparable smoking prohibition for young people by the United Kingdom government.

Nevertheless, the policy in New Zealand has faced persistent criticism from business associations, including proprietors of corner stores and newsagents, who lament the revenue loss caused by tobacco sales despite the provision of government subsidies.

Conservative legislators had also argued that prohibiting tobacco would create a black market.

Nicola Willis, the new finance minister of New Zealand, announced on Saturday that the coalition government would repeal the laws in order to finance the tax cuts that were pledged during the election.

National, the ruling party, had not campaigned for the repeal of the laws; therefore, health experts, who believed the policy to be safe under a National administration, were taken aback by the announcement.

Ms. Willis, on the other hand, stated that National's coalition partners, the libertarian Act and the populist New Zealand First, had been "insistent" on reversing the smoke-free legislation.

Six weeks after the election, on Friday, an agreement was reached, thereby facilitating the inauguration of the new government on Monday.

Both minor parties obstructed one of National's flagship policies—the party had been counting on it to finance tax cuts for middle and higher-income earners—to permit foreign property ownership. On Saturday, Ms. Willis disclosed to New Zealand's local sources that this prompted the party to seek opportunities elsewhere.

"We must bear in mind that the modifications to the smoke-free legislation had a substantial financial impact on the government, amounting to approximately one billion dollars," she continued. Several experts in public health, however, have criticised the trajectory.

Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, chairman of New Zealand's Action for Smokefree 2025 committee, told sources. 

Twenty years later, the Smokefree policy would have saved the New Zealand health system approximately NZ$1.3 billion (£630 million; $790 million), according to public health modelling conducted in 2022.