It is a curious irony that the West's leading progressive icon is probably the most authoritarian leader in the free world today. Since sweeping to power in 2017, the New Zealand prime minister has been repeatedly lauded by the London intelligentsia as the ideal model of a liberal, centrist premier. This is despite the blessed Jacinda's stock response to every public policy crisis being to restrict or ban the offending phenomena in question. After Christchurch it was guns; for Covid it was lockdowns, with bans on the unvaccinated. Now Ardern has stumbled onto the solution to smoking: why not simply ban cigarettes?
Today her government has announced that it will outlaw smoking for the next generation, so that those who are aged 14 and under today will never be legally able to buy tobacco. New legislation means the legal smoking age will increase every year, supposedly to create a 'smoke-free generation of New Zealanders.' Ardern's apparatchik, health minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, has heralded the news as 'a historic day for the health of our people' with the country's daily smoking rates dropping over time – down to 11.6 per cent in 2018, from 18 per cent a decade earlier.
Yet despite the chorus of delight from public health experts – with one declaring 'all my wishes have come true' – even that is not enough for Verrall, who has now turned her guns on the smoking rates of the country's ethnic minorities. Smoking rates for Māori and Pasifika are 29 per cent and 18 per cent respectively, with the minister warning that: 'if nothing changes, it would be decades till Māori smoking rates fall below five per cent... if we don’t change what we’re doing, we won’t make it for Maori – and that’s [what] the plan is really focused on.'
Mr S can't help but reflect that it seems somewhat unedifying for ministers to effectively declare a public health war on traditionally persecuted minorities in a former colonial state. And that's to say nothing about the proposal's blackmarket potential, with Ardern's administration itself admitting that 'the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling.' Whoops.
Steerpike just wonders what comes next after people are banned from buying cigarettes. Shooting smokers? Well, if anyone can, surely it will be Saint Jacinda. Hallelujah!