Any smoker will tell you that giving up is difficult, and the new administration in New Zealand isn't ready to tackle this task just yet.
New Zealand has declared a u-turn to help pay for tax cuts, disappointing public health professionals and anti-tobacco groups. A year after adopting a world-class smoking ban intended to save thousands of lives and prevent new generations of young adults from smoking, New Zealand has made headlines for the wrong reasons.
The anti-smoking law, which was introduced last year, forbade the sale of tobacco to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.
The law, which was scheduled to go into effect in July 2024, called for severe punishments for infractions, including fines of up to NZ$150,000 ($96,000).
After the October elections, the country's new prime minister, Chris Luxon of the conservative National Party, formed a coalition with the libertarian ACT New Zealand and the populist New Zealand First Party. Luxon defended the controversial move, claiming he disagreed with some aspects of the policy and that a ban would lead to a boom in the black market.
Luxon reaffirmed his commitment to lowering tobacco usage and noted that smoking rates have been declining across the nation.
Speaking to Radio New Zealand, an affiliate of CNN, Luxon said that his government will keep up its educational initiatives and "encourage people to take up vaping as a cessation tool."
Worldwide recognition for New Zealand's pioneering smoking ban was extended to public health authorities.
Britain similarly announced intentions to phase out smoking for future generations a few months after New Zealand did.
Even after New Zealand reversed course, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that the British government was still committed to gradually banning smoking. "We are dedicated to that," the spokesman declared.
"This is a critical, long-term choice and action to ensure future generations are smoke-free."
Nicola Willis, the recently appointed finance minister of New Zealand, announced on Saturday that the measures will be removed before March 2024 and that tax breaks will be funded by proceeds from the sale of cigarettes.
According to the World Health Organisation, smoking causes more than eight million deaths annually worldwide, with one in four smokers.
With an expected 56,000 smokers quitting in 2022, smoking rates in New Zealand, which were already among the lowest in the world, have been declining and are at their lowest point since records began, according to experts.
Public health experts and anti-tobacco organisations expressed astonishment and disgust at New Zealand's policy shift, accusing the new government of putting the tobacco business and the economy before people's lives.
Reversing the prohibition, according to the nation's former health minister, Ayeshea Verrall, "flew in the face" of the previous administration and would cause significant setbacks for the nation. She made this statement to CNN affiliate Radio New Zealand.
"What's happening is that the new government reversed a set of measures that would have significantly reduced smoking and was estimated to save 80,000 lives, and they're doing it just to fund tax cuts," Verrall said.
Health Coalition Aotearoa (HCA), an anti-smoking organisation, voiced dissatisfaction with the new coalition's intentions to lift the smoking ban.
The organisation released a statement saying, "This is a major loss for public health and a huge win for the tobacco industry, whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives." They also noted that a significant portion of New Zealanders continued to support the world's most popular smoke-free legislation.
It is not possible for individuals or even communities to reverse the tide on dangerous items that have become ingrained in society, according to HCA. "It requires smart, courageous population-level policies."