Slashing tobacco outlets, increasing cigarette prices and outlawing filters among new proposals

Anna Whyte
Source: 1News

Significantly reducing the number of tobacco outlets in New Zealand, reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes, outlawing filters and increasing prices even more are all proposals that could be on the way. 

Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall released a consultation document today with proposals to reach the Government's smokefree 2025 goal.

"The best way to achieve a smokefree future is for young New Zealanders to never start smoking," the physcian-turned-MP said. 

The document includes Ministry of Health proposals to strengthen the rules and governance around tobacco and make tobacco products less available, addictive and appealing, and more expensive. 

A proposal to strengthen governance included kaupapa Māori input and leadership and to strengthen compliance and enforcement. 

It also wants to reduce the number of places selling tobacco to five per cent of the current amount. 

"Linking the number of retailers in an area to its population size and density could significantly reduce the number of retail outlets selling smoked tobacco and make it substantially more difficult to buy cigarettes," the document stated. 

It also proposed the only places that could sell tobacco would have to be licensed retailers — with a restriction to places such as specialist R18 stores or pharmacies. 

The document also looked at implementing prohibition from a specific age, by moving the age limit up each year.

"For example, if legislation commenced on 1 January 2022, then people younger than 18 years at that time or those born after 1 January 2004 would never be able to lawfully be sold smoked tobacco products."

Modelling suggested that could halve smoking rates in 10-15 years. 

Other proposals included reducing nicotine to minimal levels and outlawing filters. 

It said filters had no impact of reducing smoking harm. Instead, officials said, they are used to make smoking tobacco more palatable and are thought to be "the most pervasive form of plastic pollution on the planet".

For pricing, it also looked at a minimum price to add to the smoking excise tax. 

Verrall acknowledged the changes could negatively impact some small businesses and that measures to combat this would be needed. 

"Although, the nature and size of the impact will depend on the extent to which smokers substitute cigarettes for less harmful alternatives such as vaping products," she said. 

The document also said the measures would contribute to an increase in the tobacco black market. 

"Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling," it stated.  

A 2017 Global Burden of Disease study cited in the discussion document reported that in New Zealand there was about 12 deaths a day due to smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke.

In 2010, a Parliament select committee recommended the smokefree goal by 2025. The Government adopted a goal of "reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, which would essentially make New Zealand smokefree by 2025", the discussion document stated.