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Under the proposed new law, the legal age of 18 to buy cigarettes will be gradually raised, Deputy Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said at a news conference on Thursday.
“We want to make sure that young people never start smoking, so we will make it illegal to sell or offer tobacco products to new youth groups,” she said. “People from the age of 14 when the law went into effect will never be able to legally buy cigarettes.”
The government plans to bring the bill before Parliament in 2022 as part of a campaign to reduce smoking rates in the community to less than 5% by 2025.
According to government data, 13.4% of New Zealand’s adult population is classified as a smoker. This is down from 18.2% in 2011/12.
But between 4,000 and 5,000 people die annually from smoking-related illnesses, according to the Department of Health.
“Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes a quarter of cancers,” said Verrall. “Smoking-related harm is particularly prevalent in Mori, Pacific and our low-income communities.”
About 32% of Mori women smoke – the highest rate in the country, according to the ministry. The rate is 25% for Mori men.
Along with the proposed legislation, the government would prioritize “practical support measures” for smokers to help them quit, Verrall added.
These include ensuring only the manufacture, import and sale of very low nicotine products, and stricter restrictions on tobacco advertising. The number of stores that can sell tobacco products will also be significantly reduced.
The law does not cover vaping, which is still popular among young people in New Zealand. A November report from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ found that almost 20% of students vape daily, with 57% feeling it has an adverse effect on their health.
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