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Plain tobacco packaging could set unintended precedent

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New Zealand News | Wednesday February 20 2013 6:09

Plain tobacco packaging could set unintended precedent

One of the submitters against plain packaging of cigarettes is worried the decision will set a precedent.

The Government is going ahead with the move, but the plain packages won't be in shops until Australia has overcome its legal battles with the same move.

Australia is being sued by tobacco giant Philip Norris on the grounds the move to plain packaging breaches a free trade treaty with Hong Kong.

Daniel Kaldermeris from Chapman Tripp, says New Zealand also has a trade treaty with Hong Kong, but has greater protections on health grounds.

ASH Australia spokesman Stafford Sanders says there are already early signs the changes are impacting on smokers, with a definite surge in calls to that country's Quitline.

"[The callers] felt that the cigarettes didn't taste as good now, with the new packages, which is a little bit surprising.

"There's no change to the cigarettes at all, just to the packets."

Stafford Sanders says many legal opinions believe Big Tobacco's case is very weak and won't succeed.

Chief executive of the Association of New Zealand Advertisers, Lindsay Mouat, says if the Government can step in to legislate over cigarettes, it could be pushed into other areas too.

"Some may take this as an opportunity to seek plain packaging in other sectors, such as alcohol, fast food, carbonated beverages and the like."

Lindsay Mouat says plain packaging means brands lose their identity.

"It limits the opportunity for those brands to introduce new products, products that may be considered better for you.

"In actual fact, it has some unintended consequences of reducing choice for consumers."

Big Tobacco is already asking why the Government bothered with a consultation process over plain packaging for cigarettes, given it has ignored what the majority of submitters thought.

Some 20,000 submissions on the plan were received, of which more than 12,600 opposed plain packaging.

Imperial Tobacco New Zealand spokesman Brendan Walker says it is disappointing the Government has chosen this path when there is no evidence that it will work.

He says it comes on top of increased excise taxes and a ban on retail displays, neither of which have been thoroughly evaluated yet.

Greens co-leader Metiria Turei believes the Government can still proceed with its plans.

"I think they can probably do that, and still be very clear that this is a policy they want to implement and start to timetable to do that.

"I don't think they should [drop] the policy because of what is happening in Australia."

Opposition leader David Shearer supports the policy, and does not believe it is vulnerable to the intellectual property arguments being mounted by tobacco companies.

"If they do, we'll take them on.

"The most important thing is that our population stays as healthy as they possibly can."

But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters wants to know why the change is being introduced while the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal is still being negotiated.

He says allowing plain packaging  will lead to costly legal action from US-owned tobacco companies.

Mr Peters says the policy makes no sense and if we were to follow the Government's logic, there would also have to be similar rules for alcohol to tackle the harm it creates.

Photo: Katie Bradford-Crozier / Newstalk ZB

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