Banning cigarette sales in local dairies and areas close to schools would slow youth smoking rates and help fight tobacco harm, a local health expert says.
New research, conducted by the Cancer Society social and behavioural research unit at Otago University, is the first to look at the location of tobacco retailers around the country.
The study found that almost half of all New Zealand secondary schools are within 500 metres of a shop that sells tobacco.
Tobacco was also more easily accessed in poorer neighbourhoods - contributing to higher smoking rates among "socio-economically disadvantaged" groups in our society.
"This widespread availability makes it harder for people to quit smoking and easier for new smokers to take up the habit," the report said.
Hawke's Bay District Health Board senior population adviser and smokefree leader Ana Apatu said limiting accessibility to tobacco, especially within proximity to schools, would slow the number of young people in the region who took up the habit.
"We're very supportive of any restrictive measures."
Cigarettes were often strategically placed, and their long-time spot next to the lollies was "no accident", Ms Apatu said. "Visibility is a trigger."
The Hawke's Bay DHB also supported local iwi Ngati Kahungunu, who had been implementing their own tobacco-free strategy, she said.
A letter-writing campaign to ask local retailers to "stop killing our people" by selling tobacco resulted in a handful taking it off their shelves, spokeswoman Jenny Smith said.
"The tobacco companies specifically target Maori and low socio-economic areas."
According to the research, despite legally having to be 18 to buy tobacco, a third of minors still get their hands on cigarettes from commercial sources.
The researchers want the Government to introduce a "comprehensive" range of tobacco control measures, including licensing for all tobacco retailers.
Other options include banning some types of shops, like dairies, from selling tobacco and prohibiting tobacco sales in certain zones, such as near schools.
Retailers have lashed out at the recommendations, saying the findings border on "conspiracy theories".
"Yet again we are seeing tobacco control activists out of Otago University lobbying the Government for another whack on New Zealand retailers," New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores chairman Roger Bull said.
Tobacco controls were already strict, with products hidden behind doors and available only to people over 18, he said.
Claiming the density of tobacco retailers in poor areas or close to schools targeted the most vulnerable new customers pushed the researchers' credibility into the realm of conspiracy theories, Mr Bull said.
He warned of the ineffectiveness of supply-side tobacco controls, as young people often sourced cigarettes through friends and family.
"The simple fact is that retailers sell tobacco because there is a consumer demand for the product and tobacco represents an important revenue stream for convenience stores and small retail outlets.
"This idea will achieve little if anything, aside from driving small retailers out of business."
Smoking is likely to be banned in family cars with young passengers before Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia leaves office next year, which is part of the Government's goal of a smokefree society by 2025.