Kate Andrews Kate Andrews

New Zealand’s smoking ban u-turn is bad news for Rishi Sunak

(Credit: Getty images)

New Zealand’s new coalition government has announced that it will scrap Jacinda Ardern’s plan to usher in a generational smoking ban. The scheme would have steadily lifted the legal age for buying cigarettes from 2027, effectively stopping anyone born after 2008 from purchasing them. 

The right-leaning parties now in power – the National party, the libertarian ACT party, and centrist New Zealand First – aren’t even going to give such a strange experiment a chance. No doubt they want to avoid the myriad problems the policy will conjure up in future, including burdens on businesses one day having to ID people in their 50s and 60s. But what the U-turn really prevents is a creation of a two-tier society of adults, where some have more rights than others (the reason a similar policy has been put on the backburner in Malaysia). 

It’s a good day for liberty – and a bad day for Rishi Sunak. The Prime Minister used his political capital at Conservative party conference last month to announce a generational smoking ban in the UK. It was an odd policy choice for such an important moment, not least because it felt like an extremely heavy-handed approach to a problem that’s already on the path to solving itself. Kids are increasingly rejecting cigarettes: the percentage of children who try smoking has plummeted, from over 50 per cent in the early 1980s to 12 per cent (those who report smoking regularly is down to 1 per cent).

As Fraser Nelson wrote at the time of Sunak’s announcement in October, the models used to usher in this policy in the UK were rather dubious. They assumed that this trend of anti-smoking would stop and that the generational ban was needed to keep things on track. But the real cover for the policy was that the UK wasn’t the only country in the world set to green-light such a huge state overreach.

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