New Zealand Plans to Gut Public Health Policies on Tobacco Sales
Statement from Laurent Huber, Executive Director, Action on Smoking and Health
November 29, 2023
Last week, New Zealand led the way in ending the tobacco epidemic with the most progressive and hard-hitting tobacco policies in the world. This Monday, November 27th, the new coalition government under Prime Minister Christopher Luxon vowed to undo it all. It is a devastating decision that will cost lives, sap wealth, entrench health inequity, and extinguish a shining beacon for the rest of the world.
New Zealand’s world-beating tobacco policies, passed in December 2022, include a ban on the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2008, a drastic reduction in the number of tobacco retailers, and the reduction of nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. It led several countries to reevaluate their tobacco strategies and move to adopt similar measures.
Finance Minister Nicola Willis explains that the move is necessary because the new public health laws would have cut revenue from excise taxes on tobacco products, which they need to fund new tax breaks. The reason the new laws would have reduced excise tax revenue is obvious but worth stating – it is because the new laws would have worked exactly as intended, driving down prevalence and reducing the death and disease caused by tobacco.
In a dark irony, discarding these laws will also have a long-term negative impact on New Zealand’s finances. New Zealand has a universal health care system, which means nearly all the economic costs of treating tobacco-caused diseases fall on the government and therefore taxpayers.
New Zealand was the first country to set an aggressive goal for reducing smoking prevalence, to 5% or less by 2025. The effort was led by the Māori community, which smokes – and suffers the results of smoking – at a much higher rate than the White population. The slate of new tobacco regulations passed in December 2022 were carefully researched to help accomplish the smoking prevalence reduction goal. Without the life-saving policies, failure is all but certain.
Action on Smoking and Health urges Prime Minister Luxon to reconsider this path. This reversal will not result in more money in their citizens’ pockets, but it will dissipate efforts to achieve health equity and result in substantially more disease and death than if they leave the laws in place. Short-term budgets should not be balanced on the backs of peoples’ lives.
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