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NZ 'should be smoke-free by 2025'

New Zealand should severely limit the import and use of tobacco and aim to become a smoke-free nation by 2025, a parliamentary committee has recommended.

The proposal to drastically cut smoking rates was welcomed by health workers and given cautious support from the government, which said the habit is a health hazard but that it would be difficult to completely eradicate it.

The only other country with a similar policy is Finland, which plans to be smoke-free by 2040, said anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health director, Ben Youdan.

While the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan banned the sale of cigarettes in 2004, the availability of tobacco "has not fallen significantly" since, he said.

About 20% of New Zealand's 4.4 million general population smoke, but that rate is double - 40% - among the indigenous Maori people, a parliamentary committee on the Maori said in a new report.

The health costs of smoking hinder Maori social and cultural well-being as well as economic development, the report found.

Smoking bans would be good for all New Zealanders, it said. "The goal is simple - we want tobacco consumption and smoking prevalence to be halved by 2015 across all demographics and New Zealand to be a smoke-free nation by 2025," the report said.

The committee recommends that the government require tobacco companies to fund all quit-smoking aids, cut imports by a set amount each year, ban tobacco sales displays, impose annual price hikes above the inflation rate and reduce duty-free import levels of tobacco products.

In recent months, the government has imposed an extra 30% tax increase on tobacco products to phase in over three years and banned smoking in prisons started July 2011.

Prime Minister John Key, who had been briefed on the report's recommendations ahead of its release, said yesterday that "it would be extremely difficult" to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2025, but that his government acknowledged the harm smoking caused - the reason it has increased taxes on tobacco products.

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