Australia is being urged to follow in the footsteps of New Zealand and introduce a lifetime ban on cigarettes for young people.
A prominent tobacco policy researcher has said the policy would amount to “finishing the job” for a country that became the first in the world to mandate plain packaging.
And a government document to be published on Monday could reveal whether anti-smoking campaigners will get what they want.
On Thursday, New Zealand became the first in the world to introduce a lifetime ban on cigarettes for young people, as part of a suite of measures to cut down on smoking.
From 2023, the legal smoking age in New Zealand will be raised every year so that younger generations will never be allowed to buy cigarettes.
“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,” associate health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall said on Thursday.
“People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco.”
As for older people, the amount of shops selling cigarettes will be cut by 95 per cent to just 500, while tobacco products will also be required to contain less nicotine to make them less addictive.
Current smokers will also be able to turn to other less-harmful forms of tobacco such as vaping, which are already more accessible in New Zealand than in Australia.
“I think this is going to be a real game changer,” international tobacco control expert Associate Professor Coral Gartner told The New Daily.
“This is going to really reduce the number of young people who experiment with smoking and then become addicted to it.
“It’s also going to assist people who currently smoke to stop smoking.”
Associate Professor Gartner heads the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence on Achieving the Tobacco Endgame at the University of Queensland, and researches tobacco policy at home and abroad.
According to the Cancer Council, roughly 24,000 Australians die each year due to smoking-related illnesses, and about two-thirds of deaths in smokers can be attributed to tobacco.
On Monday the Australian government will release the National Preventative Health Strategy, which will attempt to combat this, among other things.
The draft document sets a goal for less than 10 per cent of adults to smoke daily by 2025, and less than 5 per cent by 2030.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, in which smoking remains disproportionately high and there is limited access to support, the goal is to reduce the daily smoking rate to 40 per cent of people by 2023.
However, many of the measures outlined in the draft strategy are continuations of existing strategies, such as removing tobacco advertising or ramping up media campaigns to encourage people to quit, or simply too vague to judge before the full release.
“We’re considered world leaders, but there really hasn’t been much innovation in the last decade,” Associate Professor Gartner said.
Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging and from 2014 until 2020, the tax on cigarettes increased by 12.5 per cent each year.
Associate Professor Gartner said although nowhere else in the world has introduced the “groundbreaking” new restrictions announced by New Zealand, it would be an obvious step for Australia towards “finishing the job”.
However, some jurisdictions have moved towards this goal.
The Netherlands will ban supermarkets from selling cigarettes from 2024, while Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach in California each banned all tobacco sales from the start of this year.
Back in January, the Australian Council on Smoking and Health called for the sale of cigarettes to be banned by 2030.
“The sale of cigarettes in Australia is facilitated by a historical exemption under the Poisons Act for tobacco products designed for smoking,” the group’s chief executive Maurice Swanson said.
“However, Australia, like many other countries, has consumer product safety laws to ensure that products are safe for intended or reasonably foreseeable use.”
He said cigarettes should be banned just like any other hazardous product would be.
Whether Australia plans to join New Zealand in making a move like this will be revealed on Monday.