Experts debunk claim that tobacco laws would increase ram-raids

The government’s plan to repeal the world-leading smokefree legislation has been met with criticism from health experts, who say the claim that reducing tobacco outlets would lead to more ram-raids is based on anecdote and not evidence.

According to police data, ram-raids have been trending downwards since late 2022, and only a minority of them target tobacco products. The data also show that most ram-raids steal money and cash tills, rather than cigarettes and tobacco.

Health experts say that reducing the number of tobacco retail outlets and denicotinisation, which are part of the smokefree legislation, would actually lead to further decreases in ram-raid crimes, as the demand and supply of tobacco products would decline.

Smokefree legislation is evidence-based and effective

The smokefree legislation, which was passed in December 2022, contains three core measures: limiting the number of retail outlets where tobacco can be sold from around 6000 to no more than 600; lowering the nicotine content of cigarettes and tobacco to non-addictive levels; and introducing a smokefree generation, by making it illegal to sell tobacco to anyone born after 2009.

These measures are based on strong theoretical and logical considerations, as well as numerous studies, including systematic reviews, randomised trials, epidemiological investigations, modelling, opinion surveys, and in-depth analyses of people who smoke and young people.

The legislation is expected to save thousands of lives, especially among Māori, who have higher smoking rates and bear a disproportionate burden of tobacco-related harm. It is also endorsed by international experts and has inspired global change.

Government faces backlash for repealing smokefree legislation

The new coalition government, which was elected in October 2023, has announced its intention to repeal the smokefree legislation as one of its first actions, without seeking public comment or select committee scrutiny.

The government has cited “practical issues” and “concerns” from retailers as the reasons for repealing the legislation, but has failed to provide any evidence or logic to support these claims.

The decision has been widely condemned by health advocates, researchers, and Māori groups, who have filed an application with the Waitangi Tribunal, asking for an urgent hearing of their complaint that repealing the legislation would breach the Treaty of Waitangi.

The government has also been warned that overturning the smokefree legislation could inflict serious reputational damage on New Zealand, as well as undermine its commitment to addressing the tobacco epidemic and achieving the Smokefree 2025 goal.

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