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Gov't aims for smoke-free country

Published:Friday | May 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP):

There are smoke-free bars, smoke-free parks, even smoke-free college campuses. But a smoke-free country?

New Zealand's government yesterday squeezed smokers more than ever by announcing a 40 per cent hike in tobacco taxes over the next four years. Prices there are already among the highest in the world, and by 2016, they will top 20 New Zealand dollars (US$15) a pack on average.

Officials hope higher taxes and new restrictions will bring the nation of 4.4 million closer to a recent pledge to snuff out the habit entirely by 2025. Other countries have lauded the idea of trying to wean their populace off tobacco, but few, if any, have been willing to put a date on it.

Health officials here are so serious they recently considered hiking the cost of a pack of cigarettes to 100 New Zealand dollars (US$75). Although that idea was dismissed, another measure, which will force retailers to hide cigarettes below the counter rather than putting them on display, will come into effect in July.

Smoking rates among New Zealand adults have fallen from about 30 per cent in 1986 to about 20 per cent today. Cigarette sales have fallen more sharply, suggesting that even people who haven't quit, cut back as prices rose.