Not Making History

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New Zealand’s new government will scrap world-leading legislation to ban smoking for future generations in order to fund tax cuts, a reversal that prompted criticism from health officials and concerns about the well-being of the country’s Indigenous Māori, the Guardian reported Monday.

Last year, then-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Labour Party cabinet introduced a new law that would stop those individuals born after January 2009 from ever being able to legally buy cigarettes. The bill was aimed at preventing smoking-related deaths and saving the health system hundreds of millions of US dollars.

The legislation included a series of measures, such as making smoking less affordable, reducing the amount of nicotine and cutting the number of stores allowed to sell cigarettes from 6,000 to just 600 nationwide.

The law would have been implemented from July 2024, but the new center-right coalition led by the National Party said this week it would repeal the amendments, including “removing requirements for de-nicotization, removing the reduction in retail outlets and the generation ban.”

Finance Minister Nicola Willis noted that the measures will be removed before March 2024 and that the revenue from cigarette sales will go towards the coalition’s tax cuts.

She explained that the decision came following coalition talks between National and its two other coalition partners, the populist New Zealand First party and the conservative ACT party.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said that the reversal would prevent a hidden tobacco market from emerging, and stop shops from being targeted for crime. He added that the government will work on lowering smoking rates through education and other smoking policies.

But supporters of the anti-smoking law expressed shock at the government’s move, saying it could cost up to 5,000 lives a year, and be “catastrophic” to Māori communities, who have higher smoking rates.

Others suggested that recent modeling showed the law would save around $800 million in health system costs over the next two decades if fully implemented. It would also reduce mortality rates by 22 percent for women and nine percent for men.

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