The law also mandates near-elimination of nicotine from all cigarettes and slashes the number of retail outlets allowed to sell tobacco
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL // December 14, 2022
New Zealand this week adopted a steadily rising tobacco-purchase age and mandated the near-elimination of nicotine from all cigarettes sold in the country, pushing forward on a plan to create a smoke-free nation as other countries consider similar measures.
The law passed Tuesday bans the sale of tobacco products in New Zealand to anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2009, so those who are age 13 or younger today will never be able to legally purchase tobacco in their lifetimes. Under the law, the number of retail outlets allowed to sell tobacco will be reduced to 600 from about 6,000 by the end of next year. The law also requires the reduction of nicotine in cigarettes to nonaddictive levels—a policy that is expected to be implemented by 2024.
Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke are associated with 8 million annual deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. The rollout of the policies in New Zealand could influence efforts in the U.S. and the U.K. to introduce similar measures, and offers scientists an opportunity to study their effectiveness.
New Zealand is “engaged in an extraordinarily important natural experiment to see if these significant policy approaches, which have not been implemented elsewhere, succeed in driving down cigarette smoking, as many experts think they’re likely to do,” said Clifford Douglas, director of the Tobacco Research Network at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Thousands of people will live longer, healthier lives as a result of the legislation, New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said. She added that the country’s health system would save billions of dollars from the treatment of smoking-related illnesses.
The Biden administration is pursuing a nicotine policy similar to New Zealand’s. It would require tobacco companies to reduce the nicotine in all cigarettes sold in the U.S. to minimally or nonaddictive levels. Federal regulators are now drafting a proposed rule; the policy wouldn’t take effect for several years. U.S. health officials have said that the policy would prevent future generations from becoming addicted to cigarettes, and would prompt millions of smokers to quit. Cigarette manufacturers have objected to the plan, saying it would spawn illicit sales and result in other unintended consequences.
The U.S. is also planning to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, following similar moves in Canada and the European Union. U.S. health officials determined that menthol cigarettes are more harmful and harder to quit than regular cigarettes. Newport maker Reynolds American Inc. and other tobacco companies have disputed those findings. A ban on menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products is set to take effect soon in California, where voters last month approved the measure.
The U.K., meanwhile, is aiming by 2030 to lower its smoking rate to 5% from 14%. As part of that strategy, regulators are planning to allow healthcare providers to prescribe e-cigarettes to help patients switch from cigarettes to a less-harmful option. The U.K. is also considering raising the minimum tobacco-purchase age to 21 from 18, as the U.S. did in 2019.
Write to Jennifer Maloney at Jennifer.Maloney@wsj.com