Experts warn heath system will bear burden of Government abandoning smokefree regulations

Health experts are warning there will be a heavy burden placed on our health system after it was revealed the new Government will abandon New Zealand's world-leading smoking ban to fund tax cuts.

A group of clinical leaders is urging the Government to seriously re-consider its repeal of smoking and vaping legislation which would have banned the sale of cigarettes to future generations, reduced nicotine levels and limited the number of tobacco retailers. 

Introduced by the Jacinda Ardern-led Government, the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Act 2022 was designed to stop young people from smoking and from 2027 it would have banned the sale of tobacco products to anyone born on or after January 1, 2009.

However, on Friday it was revealed the new Government will repeal the laws with deputy leader Nicola Willis telling Newshub Nation both ACT and New Zealand First were "insistent" on reversing the restrictions.

The new Government believes the smokefree laws would force tobacco onto the black market. The Government also said having limited stores selling tobacco products would create a massive target for criminals.

However, health experts are extremely worried about the impact the repeals will have on lung health and our health care system.

Cardiovascular disease is the country's greatest killer and smoking is a major contributor, Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand chair Dr Selwyn Wong said.

Modelling suggests the smokefree laws could have saved thousands of lives each year, especially for Māori.

Dr Wong warns the delay of a smokefree society will have significant cardiovascular consequences - including more premature heart attacks, strokes and deaths.

Asthma and Respiratory Foundation medical director Dr James Fingleton said the repeals would be a "massive step back in respiratory health for Aotearoa".

"This move not only undermines the progress we, as a country, were making in safeguarding the respiratory health of our New Zealanders but also places a heavier burden on our healthcare system," Dr Fingleton said.

The tobacco industry brings in nearly $2 billion a year in tax revenue which the Government plans to use to help fund National's tax cuts after its original revenue source from foreign buyers' tax was blocked in coalition negotiations.

Respiratory physician Dr Paul Dawkins said the Government cannot afford to compromise the health of New Zealanders for short-term gains.

He said it is unfathomable the new Government would allow big tobacco and the vaping industry to make profits at the expense of the health and lives of New Zealanders.

"It is their duty to prioritise the wellness of New Zealanders, and healthy lungs are at the forefront of a healthy active life," Dr Dawkins said. 

"I ask our new leaders to re-think their agreement - now - before it's too late."

The Government plans to repeal the smokefree regulations before March 2024.