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How to understand anti-smoking laws


Changes to the smoke-free laws

The SMOKE-FREE ENVIRONMENTS ACT 1990 places restrictions on smoking in public, on smoking in the workplace and on sales of cigarettes and tobacco to under-18s.

The SMOKE-FREE ENVIRONMENTS AMENDMENT ACT 2003 extends these restrictions in significant ways. These are some of the most important changes:

  • From December 2003 it is illegal for any person (including parents and other family members) to give cigarettes to under-18s in a public place.
  • From 1 January 2004 there is a complete ban on smoking in schools and early childhood centres, both indoors and outdoors, both indoors and out.
  • From 10 December 2004, there will be a complete ban on smoking in indoor workplaces and in indoor areas of pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues.

Below we explain in more detail the law as it stands at February 2004, and the further changes that the 2003 amendment Act will introduce in December 2004.

Young people and smoking

Is it against the law for young people to smoke?

No. Regardless of how old you are, it isn't against the law for you to smoke or to buy cigarettes or tobacco.

Can shops sell cigarettes to young people?

It's against the law for a shopkeeper to sell cigarettes, tobacco, herbal cigarettes or toy cigarettes to anyone under 18, even if the customer is buying them for someone who is 18 or older. ("Toy cigarettes" does not include confectionery cigarettes.) The penalty is a fine of up to $2,000.

It's a defence if sellers prove that they didn't know that the buyer was under 18 and that they took reasonable care to prevent sales to under-18s. One way that shopkeepers can prove this is to prove that they sighted an evidence of age document.

From 11 March 2004, shopkeepers who are repeat offenders can be ordered by the court not to sell any cigarettes and tobacco, in addition to any other penalty the court could impose.

Shop notices about under-18s

All shops must display a notice stating that it's against the law to sell cigarettes, tobacco or herbal cigarettes to people under 18.

Giving cigarettes to under-18s in public places

It's against the law to give cigarettes, tobacco or herbal cigarettes, in a public place:

  • to someone who's under 18, or
  • to someone who is 18 or older if you intend for them to give the material, directly or indirectly, to another person who's under 18

The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to $2,000.

Parents, older relatives and older brothers and sisters will be covered by this ban. A "public place" includes places such as on the street, outside a shop and in a park.

It's a defence if you prove you had no reasonable grounds to suspect that the person given the material was under 18. One way of proving this is to prove that you sighted an evidence of age document.

Restricting access to cigarette machines from December 2004

From 10 December 2004, cigarette vending machines can be operated only by staff members of the premises.

Most machines are in pubs and other licensed premises, but, according to the Ministry of Health, research indicates that under-18s are still able to access vending machines. Therefore, from December, customers (that is, people who are 18 or older) will be able to buy cigarettes only by asking a staff member to operate the machine by remote control.

Cigarette advertising

Restrictions on advertising cigarettes and tobacco

In most cases it's illegal to advertise cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Health messages must also be included on all cigarette and tobacco packets and on cigarette vending machines.

Smoking in public

Passenger vehicles and terminals

Smoking isn't allowed in:

  • domestic airline flights (punishable by a $400 fine)
  • buses
  • taxis, except when the driver and all the passengers agree
  • indoor areas of ships or trains that are normally used by passengers, except for special smoking areas
  • booking or queuing areas in travel terminals
  • passenger waiting rooms and lounges, except in special areas

Complete ban for passenger vehicles and terminals from December 2004

From 10 December 2004, smoking will not be allowed in:

  • domestic airline flights (punishable by a $400 fine)
  • buses
  • taxis, whenever they are working, and regardless of whether the taxi is carrying any passengers, and even if the driver and passengers agree to smoke
  • indoor areas of ships or trains
  • booking or queuing areas in travel terminals
  • passenger waiting rooms and lounges, except in special areas

Pubs and restaurants

You're allowed to smoke in pubs and other licensed premises, unless the owner or manager doesn't permit it. But in pub restaurants and all other public eating places, at least half the seating area must be non-smoking. The areas should be as separate as possible.

Smoking is also allowed in the gaming areas of casinos, unless the casino doesn't permit it. But one quarter of the gaming area must be set aside for non-smoking.

Complete ban for pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues from December 2004

From 10 December 2004 there will be a complete smoking ban in indoor areas of hospitality venues (such as pubs, bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes, casinos and poker machine venues) if they:

  • are workplaces, or
  • serve alcohol, or
  • have a gambling licence.

This means there will no longer be any separate smoking areas.

The ban will apply to all employers, employees and customers.

The ban does not apply to outdoor areas, such as open decks, verandahs, gardens and open-sided gazebos. However, the management can decide to ban smoking in those areas if they wish.

Ban on some outdoor smoking from December 2004

The grounds of schools and early childhood centres must be completely smoke-free, at all hours and including weekends, from 10 December 2004 (see below). This will mean, for example, that parents and others watching weekend sport on school fields will not be allowed to smoke.

What can happen to me if I smoke in a non-smoking area?

It is an offence to smoke on a domestic airline flight, and you can be fined up to $400. But in all other cases it's not an offence to smoke in a smoke-free area and there is no penalty. However, the owner or manager can ask you to stop smoking; if you refuse, they can ask you to leave.

Smoking in the workplace

Can workplaces put restrictions on smoking?

Yes. Every workplace must have a written policy on smoking, which must contain some minimum restrictions on where employees can smoke (see below). Employers must recognise that employees who don't smoke or who choose not to smoke at work should be protected from tobacco smoke in the workplace as much as is reasonably practicable.

The employer must consult with employees when drawing up the policy, and must review it each year. The employer must inform employees about the policy and about the smoking and non-smoking areas.

From 10 December 2004, there will be a complete ban on workplace smoking: see below.

In what areas must smoking be banned?

The workplace policy must contain certain minimum restrictions. Smoking must be banned from:

  • shared office areas
  • lifts
  • half of the lunchroom or canteen, and
  • parts of the workplace that the public normally have access to

Notices must show where smoking is allowed and where it isn't.

Can I complain about workplace smoking?

Yes, you can complain to your employer about a problem to do with smoking in the workplace. This could be a complaint about something the employer has or hasn't done (for example, not putting a workplace policy in place) or a complaint against another employee (for example, breaching the restrictions in a workplace policy). If the complaint isn't resolved, you can take it to the Ministry of Health.

Complete ban on indoor smoking from December 2004

All indoor workplaces must be completely smoke-free from 10 December 2004. This includes offices, shops, warehouses, factories, taxis, internal areas of trains and ships, prisons, and travel premises such as terminals and passenger lounges. There will no longer be separate smoking areas. The ban extends to all common areas, including cafeterias, lifts, stairwells, toilets and washrooms.

A "workplace" also includes any public building, such as government buildings, universities and hospitals.

Limited exceptions apply for some work vehicles, and also for some home-like environments such as individual prison cells, rest-homes, hospitals, hotel rooms and residential care facilities.

The ban does not apply to outdoor areas such as outdoor decks, verandahs and orchards.

Because the ban will be complete, there will no longer be any need for workplaces to have smoking policies.

Schools and early childhood centres

No smoking in schools and early childhood centres

From 1 January 2004, schools and early childhood centres must be completely smoke-free, both indoors and outdoors. The ban applies 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other early childhood centres that are on non-exclusive premises – such as creches on university grounds or playgroups using a church hall – must be smoke-free when and where young children are present.

Who does the ban apply to?

The ban applies to staff, students, parents, visitors and anyone else using the buildings or grounds.

Getting help with quitting smoking

Where can I get help to quit smoking?

Phone Quitline toll-free on 0800 778 778. Quitline provides advice, support and information to help smokers quit smoking. Their services are free and confidential.

Quitline is run by the Quit Group, which also provides information on its website at

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