The long-awaited launch of the Government's plan to bring the country's smoking rate down to less than five per cent has been lauded as a "big deal" by a smokefree advocate.
The Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan was launched on Thursday and seeks to implement "bold new measures".
These include slashing availability and reducing the nicotine allowed in tobacco.
Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said: "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. People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.
"We are also reducing the appeal, addictiveness and availability of smoked tobacco products. New laws will mean only smoked tobacco products containing very low-levels of nicotine can be sold, with a significant reduction in the number of shops who can sell them."
There are currently excise tax increases on cigarettes and tobacco is sold in standardised packaging.
"The Government recognises that going further will not help people quit, it will only further punish smokers who are struggling to kick the habit," Verrall remarked.
Emeritus professor Robert Beaglehole, chairman of Action for Smokefree 2025, told Breakfast the plan would "accelerate progress quite dramatically towards the 2025 goal, which is not to ban cigarettes but to have a very low rate of abuse in the community".
Given about 5000 people die every year from smoking, Beaglehole said the plan should prevent the vast majority of those deaths.
"Smoking is uniquely harmful, so everything the Government does is very important."
He also described the plan as a "game-changer".
"Well I think the game-changers are that the Government recognises that smoking is uniquely harmful and that less harmful products are going to be promoted, vaping for example. I think it’s going to privilege the safer, less harmful products over the most harmful — burnt tobacco. That’s going to be very powerful.
"We’ve done a lot of pushing, stigmatising, penalising cigarette smokers. Now we’re in the business of helping them, of supporting them, of making it easier for them to quit and move over to less harmful products. It really is a game-changer."
Beaglehole said he was not "too concerned" about the criticism the plan would hit businesses in the pocket.
"Well [for] the small business owners this is not out of the blue, they know what’s coming. They can still sell vapes, they do sell vapes. Hopefully the vapes will take care of the loss from cigarettes."
He said the "big issue", however, was the illegal trade of cigarettes in answer to fears the plan may drive them underground.
The Government needed to ensure it scanned every container coming into New Zealand's ports in order for it to "do better" at detecting illegal cigarettes from China, Beaglehole said.
He also stressed the importance of the Government turning the action plan into action.
"It needs to spend some money doing health promotion work, working for communities and encouraging smokers to make more squared attempts and to promote safer alternatives."