Soldiers are used to following orders so should fall into line and accept a smoking ban, according to the Health Minister.
Jonathan Coleman, also a former Defence Minister, was talking about the intention of the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to become the world's first smoke-free military by 2020.
It said it planned to ban the sale of cigarettes on camps and bases, as well as making the housing it provides to soldiers and their families smoke-free.
The Defence Force said it would eventually make all camps and bases smoke-free.
According its own statistics, about 10 to 12 percent of its personnel are smokers.
The Navy had the highest rate at 14 percent, 12 percent in the Army and 5 percent for the Air Force.
Dr Coleman welcomed the smoke-free target, and said soldiers and other staff would have no choice but to abide by the new policy.
"The Defence Force is used to following orders so I'm sure they'll just get on with it... otherwise they'd be in trouble."
He said they were no different to many other people in society who have had to "move on" and respect smoke-free areas.
The Māori Party has strongly pushed an anti-smoking message.
Co-leader Marama Fox said some of the "boys in the field might think it was a bit rough", but in the end the Defence Force was setting a great example.
"I think [it will] throw the challenge down to other government departments."
But New Zealand First said the Defence Force had its priorities wrong, and should be focusing on more pressing issues such as soldiers' mental health and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Ron Mark is the party's deputy leader and a former soldier.
He said the planned ban was ironic, given soldiers were actively encouraged to smoke in the past.
"Soldiers were issued tobacco... and there was a time when tobacco came in ration packs in many armies around the world as it was recognised as a way of helping to relieve stress."
And Mr Mark questioned why families should be included in the ban.
"I didn't know that the contracts between Defence Force personnel and NZDF had extended that deeply into their families."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters was also not a fan.
"This is the kind of government that would send somebody to die and won't give them a chance to have a smoke before it happens."
The Defence Force said alongside the smoking ban, it would help people quit smoking through dedicated programmes.