Smokefree law changes a ‘completely backwards step’ – health experts

The incoming finance minister has admitted that New Zealand’s world-first smokefree laws have been scrapped to fund tax cuts.

File photo. Photo: 123RF

National’s coalition deal with New Zealand First – released yesterday – says it will repeal amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990 and regulations before March 2024

These changes would remove requirements for denicotisation and remove the reduction in retail outlets and the generation ban, while also amending vaping product requirements and taxing smoked products only.

Under the coalition, National could no longer fund its promised tax cuts through a tax on foreign buyers, and had to look elsewhere for revenue.

Nicola Willis told TV3’s Newshub Nation that New Zealand First and Act were “insistent” the smoke-free legislation be reversed.

“We have to remember that the changes to the smokefree legislation had a significant impact on the government books, with about a billion dollars there,” she said.

Public health experts said legislation could have saved the health system $1.3b over 20 years.

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Professor Lisa Te Morenga said scrapping the legislation would cost thousands of lives, with the worst impact on Māori.

She said health professionals were shocked at the news.

“We had believed that Shane Reti supported the Smokefree legislation … so to hear they’re going to repeal it is really a gut punch.”

National said in a statement it remains committed to reducing smoking rates.

National’s health spokesperson Dr Shane Reti said responsibility for implementing the new regulations are still to be determined.

Dr Reti said the work will likely sit with associate health minister Casey Costello.

Te Morenga said the legislation could have saved the health system $1.3 billion dollars over the next 20 years.

“This is seen as world-leading legislation and some of our closest friends are looking to emulate the work,” she said.

“So to repeal it just seems a completely backwards step.”

Te Morenga said the laws would have created a smokefree generation, who would never have had to deal with addiction or health loss caused by smoking.

The new government has also vowed to reform the regulation of vaping, smokeless tobacco and oral nicotine products while banning disposable vaping products, consider requiring a liquor license to sell vapes and increase penalties for illegal sales to those under 18.

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