New Zealand bans public smoking, smoking on railroads in ‘first for world’

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New Zealand’s government announced a new law on Monday that will ban smoking on all public spaces, a significant first step toward combatting an increasingly unhealthy habit among the population. From Sunday, 1,000 British Columbia Highway bridges will become smoke-free in Canada’s easternmost province.

Four British Columbia provincial highways will become smoke-free in a month.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Labour Prime Minister John Key, who have led New Zealand through a series of backroom deals, bills and deals, have worked together in an effort to make New Zealand one of the few developed countries to ban smoking in public spaces. Starting on Sunday, the sales of chewing tobacco will also be restricted.

New Zealand’s biggest and most popular store chain, Progressive Superstores Ltd., has strongly criticized the proposed laws. The company, based in the Pacific port city of Tauranga, calls them “excessive.” “It’s a bit of a shame,” said Oneirole Amparia, a supermarket worker in Tauranga, according to Reuters. “I think it’s getting taken over by some of the more harmful things you can consume.”

In two years’ time, New Zealand will ban smoking on its vast expanse of public land, including railway lines, parks and beaches. Experts predict that the law will have a minimal impact on the vast majority of New Zealanders, but it could help reverse the increasing numbers of smokers. For decades, New Zealanders have preferred to have more rights than to lose them, but Ardern insists that governments have a responsibility to protect the health of their citizens. “It’s important that we protect New Zealanders from the risks of smoking,” she said in Parliament last week.

At least in the British Columbia highway crossings, there are several public outdoor spaces where no one will be allowed to smoke or chew tobacco — a welcome break from the rolling sun and omnipresent smoke that many Westerners smoke.

The British Columbia government estimates that there are 38 million smokers in the province, more than one-third of the population. Statistics Canada reports that 85 percent of New Zealanders smoke, roughly double the rates in the United States.

One possible workaround to the New Zealand legislation — at least in places where legal outdoor smoking is allowed — is to not pack the tobacco.

With investigative reporting from Karin J. Fain.

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