Australia could follow in New Zealand’s footsteps in introducing a total ban on cigarettes, according to leading Aussie experts.
New Zealand will phase in a tobacco ban from next year, prohibiting anyone born after 2008 from ever purchasing cigarettes, and reducing the amount of nicotine in products sold in the meantime.
The ban is more far-reaching than anything Australia has done to tackle smoking. Individual jurisdictions like Tasmania just last year failed to get enough support to increase the minimum purchasing age to 21.
Experts claim Australia could, and should, follow New Zealand’s lead in introducing a full ban on cigarettes. Picture: Nicki Connolly / NCA NewsWire
Kathryn Barnsley, a key campaigner for the Tasmanian attempt, said she believed New Zealand’s action had reignited appetite for a similar ban back home.
“Tasmania might be the first state to go for it, but I think the drive is increasing nationwide,” Dr Barnsley told news.com.au.
“Smokers clog up the hospital system, and with so much pressure on hospitals, states will be looking to reduce that.”
Changes in government at the federal level and in several states was an opportunity to reintroduce the idea, she added.
Dr Barnsley’s research indicates as much as 70 per cent of Aussie non-smokers support a cigarette phase-out akin to New Zealand’s.
The tobacco industry, however, would always campaign against it, she claimed, saying: “When you kill a large percentage of your customers, your survival relies on recruiting new ones.”
Coral Gartner, the director of the Tobacco Endgame Research Centre, called on Australia to consider the ban.
New Zealand’s ban goes further than anything Australia has ever introduced to tackle smoking addiction. Picture: Steve Christo
“Having a clear pathway to phasing out addictive tobacco cigarettes will bring many benefits for New Zealand and other countries that consider it,” she told news.com.au.
It meant retailers could “prepare” for the products’ removal, and would put cigarettes on par with other deadly and addictive substances, she said.
Associate Professor Gartner said there were “other jurisdictions also considering these measures”, which she described as the “next stage of tobacco control policy”.
Founding chair of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association Colin Mendelsohn shied away from a full endorsement, but said there was “substance to it”.
The ban didn’t impact older smokers, who are most at risk, Dr Mendelsohn said.
“The problem we’ve got is that the older people aren’t quitting,” he told 2GB.
“We’re not helping those people actually give up cigarettes and they’re the ones who are immediately seeing quite substantial risk of death and illness.”
Australia has banned nicotine vapes without a prescription, opening up what some call a black market supply. Picture: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP.
Dr Mendelsohn said he was concerned by the ban’s potential to open up a “black market”, akin to the black market that surrounds vaping – a claim Dr Barnsley called “rubbish”.
“To have a black market, you have to have demand, and if young people aren’t allowed to buy cigarettes they won’t become addicted – hence, no demand,” she said.
New Zealand’s laws do not affect vaping, of which Dr Mendelsohn is a key proponent. Vaping was the safest alternative for addicted smokers, he claimed.
“If you make the switch (to vaping) as a smoker, you will definitely improve your health, and it’s a valuable quitting aid for many people,” he said.
“It doesn’t work for everyone. Young people shouldn’t use it. It’s not smoke-free and it’s not risk-free, but it’s a dramatic improvement if you already smoked.”
Other experts claim the health risks of vaping are not yet fully known.
Asked whether Australia would follow New Zealand’s lead, Dr Mendelsohn said: “Time will tell.”