Society

The World's Toughest Anti-Smoking Laws

New Zealand is proposing to effectively ban cigarette sales in the future, the culmination of decades of increasingly tough laws aimed at tobacco use around the world, from Kyoto to California to Costa Rica.

The World's Toughest Anti-Smoking Laws

A "No Smoking'' sign on a sidewalk in Tokyo

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank

New Zealand has announced what may be history's toughest anti-smoking law, saying it will not allow young people to buy cigarettes for life. Over the coming years, it amounts to a de facto prohibition-to-be, reports the New Zealand Herald.

Health activists are hailing the radical measure as the best way to begin to end the millions of deaths each year from smoking-related illnesses. The New Zealand legislation would be the culmination of worldwide efforts, both national and local laws, to limit tobacco use — from rules on cigarette packaging , bans on tobacco advertising and restrictions on smoking in public places.


While some of these measures have been in place for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted their importance given cigarettes’ impact on lungs and the respiratory issues caused by the coronavirus. Here’s a look at countries and localities with some of the toughest policies against "cancer sticks," no ifs, ands or butts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted their importance given cigarettes’ impact on lungs

Kirill Kukhmar/TASS/ZUMA

Reducing a smoking rate under 5% in N.Z.

The motivation behind New Zealand’s ban is to decrease deaths caused by smoking, particularly within the Indigenous Maori population that is disproportionately impacted. The Pacific Ocean island country is already one of 17 nations that require plain packaging on cigarette cartons and restricts purchasing to those over 18.

The new legislation will make it illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone aged 14 and under from 2027, which will remain in place for the rest of their respective lives. This means that even when they reach the age of 18, they can’t buy cigarettes, making them a "smoke-free" generation. The outlawing focuses on young people because this is when they often pick up a hard to break nicotine habit.

The ban also includes limiting the number of stores that are allowed to sell cigarettes and decreasing their addictive nicotine content. The gradual nature of the policy is to soften both the economic impact on businesses and mental health impact, given that smokers often have higher rates of these issues.

Bhutan ban creates black market

Bhutan made waves in 2010 by ending the distribution, manufacturing and selling of tobacco. (Controlled imports were allowed with hefty fines.) The small Himalayan kingdom has a long history of tobacco regulation, with its first control law passed in 1729. Such controls have widespread support in the majority Buddhist nation, where the tobacco plant is believed to have grown from a demoness’ blood and smoking is viewed as sinful.

In the face of prohibitions, a black market has thrived, with cigarettes smuggled from neighboring India. Consequently, while other countries strengthened their smoking restrictions during the pandemic, Bhutan actually loosened its 2010 ruling; Bhutan had few COVID-19 cases compared to India, and despite having closed its borders, infections were coming in from abroad.

So Prime Minister Lotay Tshering (a doctor who still practices on weekends) decided to lift the ban on tobacco sales (now allowed at state-owned outlets) to limit potential disease spreading. Although, Prime Minister Tshering clarified these measures are temporary.

Some countries placed restrictions on cigarette packaging

Sven Hoppe/dpa/ZUMA

Success story in Costa Rica

After years of next to no regulation largely due to the influence of the tobacco industry and the popularity of smoking in the region, Costa Rica adopted one of the world’s strictest smoking laws in 2012. The Central American country banned cigarette usage in the majority of public and private buildings and many outdoor spaces, while also not allowing separate "no smoking areas."

The legislation, which also placed restrictions on cigarette packaging and advertising, led to a 49% increase in the price of cigarettes, with demand continuing to decrease in the years since: In 2018, 11.1% of the age 20+ population used tobacco products, compared to 14.2% in 2010, according to Costa Rica’s Social Security System.

Further, Costa Rican cigarette production ended in 2018 and it has joined the World Health Organization’s list of countries that have been most successful in reaching tobacco-control goals. Costa Rica has recently fortified its standards, halting electronic cigarette and vapes use in public and placing a tax on these devices that will benefit care for tobacco-related diseases.

California leads in United States cigarette sales bans

Urban areas in the most populous U.S. state are increasing restrictions on various tobacco products. In September, San Jose became the largest American city to make the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes illegal. The goal was to prevent consumption by teens drawn to the sweet varieties; the ordinance also places limits on new shops opening near schools, community centers and libraries.

Although, these sorts of embargoes can have unexpected negative consequences; for example, when San Francisco residents voted to end the sale of flavored nicotine and tobacco items, the rates of teens smoking traditional cigarettes increased. While none of these products are good for lung health, vaping is less harmful. Still, San Francisco, the home of e-cigarette giant Juul Labs, went on to ban all e-cigarette sales in 2019.

Elsewhere, the upscale municipality of Beverly Hills effectively blocked cigarette sales within city limits at the start of 2021. The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Beverly Hills City Council, allowing cigarette sales only at hotels and cigar lounges. The Los Angeles County enclave has long been a pioneer in tobacco regulation as the first California city to stop cigarette smoking in restaurants more than 30 years ago.

Urban areas in the most populous U.S. state are increasing restrictions on various tobacco products

Irina Iriser

Japan, smoke-free city wards from Tokyo to Kyoto

Like many Asian countries, Japan had a smoking culture that has been a hard habit to break. But cities have taken measures over the past two decades to make it harder to light up. Selected wards in Tokyo have prohibit smoking on the streets.

Yet perhaps the toughest big city in the world on public smoking is Kyoto, which has banned cigarettes on 7.1 kilometers of its streets, and has police officers patrolling parks and other public spaces, handing out 1,000 yen ($8) fines. Of course, the other deterrent is prices, which are going up in Japan and elsewhere in large part because major new taxes have been levied on the sale of tobacco projects.

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