Government faces ire over move to scrap smokefree law


The government’s decision to repeal the smokefree law is drawing protests (Photo supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, December 13,2023

The National-led coalition government’s decision to repeal the country’s smokefree legislation has drawn flak both on the domestic and international fronts.

In particular, Maori and Pasifika communities, perceived to be bearing the brunt of the negative effects  of cigarette smoking, are up in arms against the government’s move.

Coalition agreements inked  between the National Party, ACT and NZ First reflect the new government’s commitment to scrap the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990.

Smokefree Act

The Act aims to restrict the sale and supply of tobacco and vaping products to 18-year-olds and above, regulate and control the marketing, advertising, and promotion of vaping and tobacco products, as well as to discourage people from taking up smoking.

The Act also aims to protect non-smokers from the ill effects of exposure to smoking, ensure that vaping and smokeless tobacco products are safe, and control the harmful components contained in regulated products as well as their emission.

The Act has been amended to align it with the goal of the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan launched in December 2022.

Amendments to Act

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products  (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act, in force since 1 January 2023, has made three key changes to the Act.

It has decreased the number of retail outlets for smoked tobacco products with effect from 1 July 2024, reduced the nicotine content of those products from 1 April 2025, and introduced a ban starting from 1 January 2027 on selling smoked tobacco products to those born on or after 1 January 2009.

Other changes already in place centre on regulating the sale and use of vaping products and cigarettes.

The new government aims to remove three specific policies enacted via the amendments. First, limiting the number of retail outlets. Second,  lowering the nicotine content of cigarettes and tobacco. Third, the ban on selling tobacco to those born after 2009.

The government calculates that repealing the smokefree legislation will ensure ongoing tobacco tax revenue, which will fund income tax reductions for middle-income people.

Retail crime

It also argues that reducing the number of tobacco sales outlets under the Act will lead to more retail crime.

But critics argue that one way of thwarting retail crime is to require tobacco outlets to meet “rigorous security criteria, and sell only de-nicotinised cigarettes, which will be much less appealing.”

Black market

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has claimed smokefree legislation will fuel a black market for cigarettes and tobacco.

But his detractors argue that the illicit market has not grown as smokers distrust tobacco products sold by underground suppliers.

 Revenue shortfall

From a government revenue standpoint, increased superannuation payments (due to longer lifespans) and lower tobacco excise tax revenue (as people quit smoking)  are estimated to result in a net financial shortfall for the government of around $ 17 billion by 2050.

New study

A new study on the smokefree law points to “major economic gains for New Zealand society with manageable costs for government.”

The study, cited by the Public Health Communication Centre Aotearoa, finds pursuing smokefree policies would generate considerable growth for New Zealand citizens with “a total cumulative gain of $46 billion by 2050.”

The study says the government has a wide range of options for addressing revenue shortfalls that may accrue from retaining  the smokefree legislation.

But the potential health benefits, “including the very large reduction in Maori vs non-Maori health iniquities,” outweigh the “economic impacts of these smokefree measures.”

The study used “a well established tobacco policy simulation model that calculated the health impacts of the NZ Smoke Free Action Plan, with additional economic modules.”

The study concludes: “Overall, in addition to all the health benefits, the NZ Smoke Free Action Plan has  substantial economic benefits for citizens that are much greater than the negative impact on government finances.”

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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