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Where there is smoke there is consequences

I don’t know where I stand on the Government’s bold new amendment to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Bill, which passed its third reading in Parliament yesterday.

On the one hand, creating a smokefree generation is radical and reasonable.

On the other hand, the radical approach will not be without victims.

As a society, it won’t be easy to dig ourselves out of our centuries-old relationship with tobacco.

Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand, and it kills 13 people a day.

The health community and the tobacco lobby have known that smoking is lethal since at least the 1940s.

In the decades since then, big tobacco will have spent untold billions on lobbying and public relations, attempting to promote cigarettes as healthy and fashionable in a desperate attempt to cling to their profits.

They made tobacco more addictive over the decades while promoting it as an accessible and accepted part of our culture at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

The new law will make it illegal to ever buy cigarettes for people born after 2009, due to turn 18 in 2027.

I am sceptical that a prohibition law will have the intended effect.

Many youths start smoking before they turn 18, which will be true for the smokefree generation.

It’s likely that even after the prohibition, many young teenagers will have access to cigarettes for decades, and those people will continue creating demand for tobacco even when it is illegal.

The ‘War on Drugs’ has taught us that the State cannot win this fight, and cigarettes might join the list of illegal drugs currently smuggled into the country.

Before the Government began to control tobacco marketing strictly, a commercial-free market for tobacco killed tens of thousands of people in the 20th century.

I worry that the other extreme, complete criminal prohibition, would hand over control to an unregulated black market and create an increase in illegal activity surrounding it.

The Government wants to reduce the number of New Zealanders who smoke, which is a noble initiative.

The Bill will lower the amount of nicotine in cigarettes, a policy the National Party supports as well, which has evidence supporting decreased per-day cigarette consumption.

That sounds like a good part of the policy and will help the Government decrease smoking in New Zealand.

The third part of the policy will reduce the number of retailers from 6000 to 600.

Dairies and petrol stations will hugely suffer at the hands of this policy, and many of them will cease to be commercially viable without being able to sell cigarettes.

The law would jeopardise the livelihoods of thousands of small business owners across the nation to reduce lung disease, asthma, cancer, and financial hardship for future generations of potential smokers.

Whatever the Government does, the law will harm people.

Past policy has successfully reduced the number of New Zealanders who smoke and the number of cigarettes they smoke daily.

I’m cautiously optimistic that the new law will further improve the health of our communities.

With that in mind, radical policies have radical consequences..

Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls
Flynn Nicholls is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age who regularly writes about education. He is originally from Wellington and is interested in environmental issues and public transport.

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