New Zealand plans to become the first tobacco-free country by 2025 with a strict ban. But in Switzerland, prevention experts doubt the effectiveness of the ban and fear its consequences.
The New Zealand Government has compiled a list of steps to be taken to achieve this ambitious goal. The option to ban tobacco consumption is crucial for all New Zealanders born after 2004, so who will be 21 by 2025. Therefore, banning this product for the entire generation, especially encouraging young people are starting to smoke.
To achieve its results, New Zealand plans to set a minimum price per package, reduce the amount of nicotine in products or restrict sales points.
The prohibition approach shows all the negative effects it can have on the field of illicit drugs.
This plan of the New Zealand authorities is welcomed by some but criticized by others. One of the biggest fears is to see a black market grow across the country.
“What’s a little more problematic is that the prohibition approach has long shown all the negative effects it has had on the field of illicit drugs, especially on human rights,” notes General Professor Jean-Franசois Eter. Health at the University of Geneva, at the Tout un monde event on Wednesday.
Guilty of an addiction
This expert underscores the disproportionate impact on people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those with mental health problems who are more likely to smoke. “We are going to impose repressive measures on these groups and we are going to criminalize a drug habit,” he said.
The tobacco ban was already in place and it did not work better than alcohol or drugs.
Jean-Felix Savory, general secretary of the Group’s Romance D’s Toss Addictions (GREA), recalled that historically the ban on tobacco was not primary.
“When this happened in the Ottoman Empire, we discovered the death penalty for tobacco consumption,” he recalled. “Very quickly, we smoked a lot, and now there is the expression ‘smoke like turkey’. We’m not used to talking about banning tobacco, but we know it already exists. It does not work better than alcohol or drugs, although it’s a very deadly psychology.”
In New Zealand, smoking is responsible for one in four deaths, and Native Americans are the most affected – especially women, 30% of smokers.
Prohibition must correspond to the community in which we live.
Another danger is that this approach by prohibition can be detrimental to prevention. But the Prime Minister of New Zealand seems ready to take it. “Jacinta Artern comes from a whole culture, no coffee, nothing … that’s what she says in interviews,” says Jean Felix-Savory.
“We can be in this pose, for example there are many states where alcohol is banned. But it has to conform to the culture, it has to conform to the society in which we live.”
In Western Europe, we are clear in liberal societies, with the most important policies on human rights, the General Secretary of the GREA recalled. “To say that we’re going to ban one-third of the people in trouble in this production is something that is not in line with our culture.”
We can reduce the proportion of smokers without actually reaching the barrier.
So what is possible in New Zealand is not possible in Europe and especially in Switzerland.
According to Jean-Franசois Etter, a professor at the World Health Organization at the University of Geneva, we need to consider barriers such as advertising, education, campaigns, or especially helping to stop tobacco. “If we put this in place with a strong political will,” he said, “we can also reduce the proportion of smokers without reaching a ban, so we will criminalize the behavior.”
Further reduce the proportion of smokers
The professor does not believe in a country that is completely tobacco-free, but he does believe in a community made up of a minority of smokers.
“The credible thing is that there will be a significant reduction in the proportion of smokers, especially among the new generation, but as long as prevention policies continue,” Jean-Franசois Eter warns. “This is never final. Today it may be a political option. It may not be in a few more years. At that point, the proportion of smokers will increase.”
Two Swiss experts point out that the main problem for the health of smokers is tobacco burning. If this combustion is replaced with non-combustible products, we are already taking a significant step in terms of public health.
Natasha von Katsem / Ong