Smoking could "virtually disappear" in New Zealand and many other developed countries within half a century, according to research by a major investment bank.
But Citigroup reckons the habit could be almost wiped out in Australia in as little as 20 years.
Smoking prevalence is 17 per cent in Australia and 19-20 per cent in New Zealand, depending on the data source, although Citigroup puts the NZ rate at 18 per cent.
But even if New Zealand has gone smokefree by 2061, the epidemic of smoking-related disease and premature deaths for many smokers will linger.
"The deaths stop 20 to 50 years after smoking ends," Christchurch public health researcher Dr Murray Laugesen said.
He said the Health Ministry estimated before the Government announced its tobacco tax increases last April that New Zealand smoking prevalence would drop to 9 per cent by 2051.
He calculated that the tax rises could shave off a further 3 percentage points.
Tobacco control groups were predicting before the tax announcement that on the current rate of decline in smoking, it would take 70 years for NZ to become smokefree.
But after the announcement - and a report from Parliament's Maori affairs committee recommending in November tough new policies with the aim of NZ becoming smokefree by 2025 - they are much more hopeful.
"We have the vision that it can be done by 2020," said Prudence Stone, director of the Smokefree Coalition. The Government is expected to reply early next month to the Maori affairs select committee.