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Euan McColm: New Zealand’s cigarette ban is extreme – but then so is lung cancer

A smoker at a bar in Edinburgh in 2004, two years before Scotland's ban on indoor smoking came into effect (Photo: James Fraser/Shutterstock)
A smoker at a bar in Edinburgh in 2004, two years before Scotland's ban on indoor smoking came into effect (Photo: James Fraser/Shutterstock)

It started for me with a single from the ice cream van that parked outside my school each morning.

Normally, I’d have spent my pocket money on a 10p mix of sweeties (you know: pink shrimps and Highland Toffees and what have you) but an older boy had told me, for the same price, I could get a cigarette and a couple of matches.

I was 12 and I took to smoking like a natural. There was no coughing and spluttering. Instead, that first deep draw left me thrillingly dizzy and (I told myself) made me look extremely cool.

Once I found the gate into the garden of tobacco, I fairly cavorted around, gasping my way through bitter black cheroots, fat King Edward cigars, and pastel-coloured cocktail cigarettes with shiny gold filter tips. I got into black coffee, too, so that when the world saw me in a cafe, dragging on a stinky Gitanes, it would know I was a serious and intense young man.

By the age of 18, I’d found my brand – Camel, untipped, soft pack – and I’d easily burn through 40 of those a day.

I wish I’d never bought my first cigarette

It’s almost 40 years since I had my first cigarette, and I regret every single one I smoked in the years that followed. All that unnecessary damage to my fitness and, oh, God, all that money.

These days I get my nicotine via caramel-flavoured vapour – though, in times of stress, I might switch back from digital to analogue because, well, nothing quite compares to a real smoke.

Since cigarettes cause a lot more preventable deaths than guns do, it makes perfect sense to restrict their sale

How I wish I’d never bought that first cigarette. I’d be a damned sight healthier and wealthier if I hadn’t.

And, so, I’m fully in favour of plans by the New Zealand government to ban the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products to anyone born after 2008.

Severe? Sure it is, but then so is lung cancer.

New Zealand’s new legislation means people currently aged 14 and under will never be able to legally purchase tobacco (Photo: Nudphon Phuengsuwan/Shutterstock)

Naturally, there are those who will argue that whether or not one smokes is a question of personal choice. But one could make the same argument in favour of relaxing the regulations surrounding the sales of firearms.

Most governments restrict the trade in guns because of the danger they pose. And, since cigarettes cause a lot more preventable deaths than guns do, it makes perfect sense to restrict their sale, too.

Nicola Sturgeon is a great admirer of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardhern. It would be no bad thing if the first minister took inspiration from her antipodean counterpart and considered a similar ban on cigarette sales to young Scots.


Euan McColm is a regular columnist for various Scottish newspapers

Scotland ‘considering’ England and New Zealand-style smoking bans

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