New Zealand
New Zealand to become first smoke free country?

The New Zealand government has taken serious measures towards achieving its goal of being tobacco smoke-free by 2025. The government has imposed a 40 percent hike on tobacco products, to be introduced over the next four years, as part of that vision.

It seems the idea is that if the product is taxed highly enough - that is, make it expensive enough - smokers will slowly reduce consumption. Tobacco products in New Zealand are already one of the costliest in the world.

The vision and the measures have garnered appreciation from around the world. The country has a population of 4.4 million.

According to the figures, by 2016 a pack of 20 cigarettes will cost NZ$20 (£9.5), as the Health Minister of the country, Tariana Turia, announced the decision on Thursday.

"We are rapidly moving towards a Smokefree Aotearoa with today's announcement of a substantial increase on the taxation of tobacco products," said Cancer Society tobacco control adviser Skye Kimura.

The government had earlier considered increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes to NZ$100 (48), which was then rejected.

"We know the rate of smoking is higher amongst more vulnerable populations and they are the ones most sensitive towards price increases," Kimura added.

Another proposal is to keep tobacco products under the counter instead of displaying it in public - this will also come into effect from July. This particular ban on display is already in effect, in countries like Canada, Ireland, Norway and the UK.

"Typically tobacco companies target young people, as their regular customers die off at a rate of 5,000 a year. This vulnerable group is less likely to have disposable income so higher prices will make them less likely to start, and more likely to quit, smoking," Kimura insisted.

However, smokers are certainly not happy with increasing prices of tobacco products. Some even argued that people who were regular smokers but poor may even commit crimes to pursue the habit. Others say hiking the prices will not solve the problem.

"It's quite ridiculous for the government to be concentrating on that. They have bigger things to worry about," the Associated Press quoted Hayley Mauriohooho, a Wellington resident who has been smoking for 20 years.

Meanwhile, producers allege higher taxes will then lead the smokers to approach the black market for products.

"Consumer demand is far better served by legitimate companies than by the illegal operators that will surely grow as the government makes it difficult for people to buy their product of choice," AP reported the head of corporate and regulatory affairs of British American Tobacco as saying.