Thursday, 9 December 2021

Tobacco prohibition coming to New Zealand

New Zealand's irritating prime minister Jacinda Ardern has made it very clear that she is running a two-tier country when it comes to Covid vaccinations. Part of her legacy will be to create a two-tier society for smokers too. From 2027, most adults will be allowed to buy cigarettes but younger adults won't. Eventually, old adults will be allowed to buy cigarettes but middle-aged people won't.

As Reuters reports:

New Zealand plans to ban young people from ever buying cigarettes in their lifetime in one of the world's toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry, arguing that other efforts to extinguish smoking were taking too long.

Note that way that this is framed as a crackdown on the tobacco industry rather than on ordinary men and women who enjoy smoking. It is a conceit has served the anti-smoking lobby well for many years.

People aged 14 and under in 2027 will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes in the Pacific country of five million, part of proposals unveiled on Thursday that will also curb the number of retailers authorised to sell tobacco and cut nicotine levels in all products.

"We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth," New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.

But its not just cohorts of youth, is it? It's entire generations until eventually full prohibition is achieved.

And let's be honest, it's not going to take 100 years. The government won't wait for the oldest cohort of smokers to die before they ban everybody from smoking. It's "the next logical step", innit? The ultimate "level playing field".

The restrictions would then be rolled out in stages from 2024, beginning with a sharp reduction in the number of authorised sellers, followed by reduced nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of the "smoke-free" generation from 2027.

So they're going to take the nicotine out of cigarettes too? A ludicrous harm maximisation approach that will put boosters under the black market that will inevitably emerge. 
You don't need me to tell you that prohibition never ends well. The last government that tried to ban smoking was ISIS. Before that, the only place where the sale of cigarettes was banned was Bhutan, but that prohibition ended in 2020 because tobacco smugglers were bringing Covid-19 into the country.

New Zealand’s proposal is slightly more sophisticated, but it will lead to the same problems of criminality and corruption that always occur when governments try to ban popular products. Its exorbitant tobacco taxes have already resulted in an epidemic of shop robberies and other crime. 

Incidentally, what about tourists - assuming New Zealand ever opens it borders again?

...the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for local convenience stores, said while it supported a smoke-free country, the government's plan would destroy many businesses.

"This is all 100 per cent theory and zero per cent substance," the group's chairman, Sunny Kaushal, told "There's going to be a crime wave. Gangs and criminals will fill the gap with ciggie houses alongside tinnie houses."

Well, quite. 

New Zealand has done well in dampening demand for cigarettes by encouraging the use of e-cigarettes. Youth smoking is now at very low levels. The government should continue to focus on demand-side policies and not be diverted by destructive supply-side measures for which there is no economic or ethical justification.

But then it was always about prohibition for the 'public health' lobby. It always was and it always will be. Bear that in mind when you see campaigners borrowing the rhetoric and policies of the anti-smoking lobby when crusading against sugar, meat, alcohol and gambling. 

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