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New Zealand Set to Repeal Smoking Ban Today

Jeffrey A. Singer

According to press reports, the New Zealand parliament is scheduled to take up, as a matter of “public urgency” (enabling lawmakers to bypass a public comment period), repealing the ban on the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after January 1, 2009. The ban was passed during the previous administration, in which Jacinda Ardern was Prime Minister. The ban was scheduled to go into effect this July.

The repeal is part of a 100‐​day plan introduced by the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. The repeal also stops the government from forcing 90 percent of tobacco retailers to close and forcing cigarette manufacturers to reduce nicotine content by 95 percent.

It appears the new government has come to its senses, recognizing how prohibition will only fuel a black market, leading to increases in crime along with more dangerous tobacco products.

As I have written here, while nicotine is the addictive component of tobacco smoke, it is otherwise relatively harmless. The other components of tobacco smoke are responsible for causing cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Many smokers use tobacco as the vehicle that delivers the nicotine.

Advocates for reducing cigarette nicotine concentration argue that it will reduce the likelihood that tobacco smokers will become addicted to nicotine and would make them more readily give up smoking. However, it is possible that those already addicted might increase consumption or take longer, deeper drags of the tobacco smoke to reach their desired nicotine effect. To date, the evidence regarding such so‐​called compensatory smoking is inconclusive.

Sadly, New Zealand’s severe restrictions on disposable nicotine e‑cigarettes will remain in effect. Nicotine e‑cigarettes are a proven means of helping people quit tobacco smoking by moving to a safer nicotine delivery system. For instance, the results of a randomized controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2019 found nicotine e‑cigarettes were superior to other forms of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) for reducing or quitting smoking. A 2022 Cochrane review found “high certainty evidence” that nicotine e‑cigarettes are superior to other forms of NRT. And last August, The Lancet reported on a naturalistic randomized controlled trial that found “unguided” e‑cigarette uptake helped tobacco smokers quit.

If tobacco prohibitionists want to see more people quit smoking, it makes no sense to drive them to the underground market to get their nicotine, whether from tobacco or much safer e‑cigarettes.

Unfortunately, the news from New Zealand has not deterred the UK government, under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in its quest to ban tobacco while making it more difficult for nicotine consumers to access safer nicotine vapes. His government will soon put before the UK parliament the same ban that New Zealand’s parliament will repeal today, along with a ban on disposable vapes. This will inevitably fuel a black market for both products. 

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