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Under proposed new legislation, the legal age of 18 for buying tobacco will be raised progressively, Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall said at a news conference Thursday.
"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," she said. "People aged 14 when the law comes into effect will never be able to legally purchase tobacco."
The government plans to put the bill before Parliament in 2022 as part of a campaign to reduce the prevalence of smoking in the community to less than 5% by 2025.
According to government data, 13.4% of New Zealand's adult population are classified as smokers. That's down from 18.2% in 2011/12.
But between 4,000 and 5,000 people die every year from smoking-related illness, according to the Ministry of Health.
"Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancers," Verrall said. "Smoking related harm is particularly prevalent in our Mori, Pacific and low income communities."
Some 32% of Mori women smoke -- the country's highest rate, according to the ministry. The rate is 25% for Mori men.
Alongside the proposed law, the government will prioritize "practical support measures" for smokers to help them quit, Verrall added.
These include ensuring only products with very low nicotine levels can be manufactured, imported and sold, and tougher restrictions on tobacco advertising. There will also be a significant reduction in the number of shops that can sell tobacco products.
The legislation does not cover vaping, which remains popular among young people in New Zealand. A November report from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ found nearly 20% of students vape daily, with 57% feeling it was having an adverse effect on their health.
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