Plain packaging for cigarettes given the go ahead

Author
Barry Soper, NZME staff,
Section
Health,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 11:16AM

UPDATED 5.04PM The green light has been given to the plain packaging of cigarettes.

But Prime Minister John Key said it's unlikely the packages will be on shelves until next year.

He said he's in favour of anything that'll encourage people to kick the killer habit.

"We know nothing kills you with greater predictability than smoking, so if the Government can take steps now to encourage New Zealanders not to smoke, whether it's raising prices, whether it's point of sale, or whether it's plain packaging, I think we are saving lives."

ACT leader David Seymour said he doesn't support it, but the Government has the numbers to get it through without him.

"In a free society you should be able to look and purchase the brands you choose. It's a bit heavy handed, but the Government's committed to doing it so let's move on."

Mr Key has two former tobacco company lobbyists in his caucus, backbenchers Chris Bishop and Todd Barclay.

Those companies have taken Governments overseas to court over plain packaging, but Mr Key doesn't believe they'd be successful.

"They may well take a case against the Government, but the advice that we've been getting over time now is that the likelihood of them being successful is reducing, and so anyway the Government's now taking the step that we believe is the right time to progress."

Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga also said he's not concerned about cigarette companies taking legal action.

He said they've kept an eye on what's happening with the World Trade Organisation, and all their advice is that the cigarette companies will lose.

Mr Lotu-Iiga has released draft regulations and a consultation document which aims to standardise the look of cigarette packs.

“The design and appearance of cigarette packets are powerful marketing tools for vendors. The Government is proposing to use the standard brown-green packaging which is similar to what is used in Australia,” Mr Lotu-Iiga said.

“We’re proposing that mandatory health warnings will cover at least 75 per cent of the front of the packs and all tobacco imagery will be removed. Brand names will be allowed but regulations will standardise how and where the printing is."

A mock-up of what cigarette packs would look like under the proposals for standardised packages. Image / Ministry of Health

Director of anti-smoking group ASH, Stephanie Erick, said it's exciting news and a step in the right direction.

Ms Erick said it shows the Government is moving through the process as fast as it can.

"I'm just elated that the Government are really looking at time frames at getting our plain packaging bill passed earlier than later, and the fact that we're looking at implementation next year is a very good sign."

She said New Zealand needs more than just pricey cigarettes if it's going to reach its smokefree goals.

Ms Erick added there's overwhelming evidence from Australia that Standardised Packaging is effective.

The Australian Government won a legal battle late last year over similar changes to its laws.

However, Retail New Zealand fears the new plain packaging will intensify the black market.

General Manager of Public Affairs Greg Harford said price hikes and plain packaging creates further security risks, is likely to increase the amount being sold illegally and be problematic for retailers such as dairy owners.

"It's going to become much harder for small retailers in particular to manage their stock levels, that's because all the products look the same. It's also going to be much harder to provide the right products to consumers, and it could add significant time as people are making transactions."

At a smokefree event on Wellington's waterfront today, Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox said politicians should lead by example and make the Parliamentary precinct smoke free.

That led to a crack from Labour MP Rino Tirikatene, who tweeted that the Maori Party and their “mates” National were “slowly turning Aotearoa into a kuia state”.

Winston Peters is also furious at Ms Fox's suggestion. Mr Peters, himself a smoker, said to take it that far is ridiculous.

"We're not going to respond to people who politically do not matter," he told reporters.

"If cigarette smoking and tobacco smoking is so bad, be honest, be sincere, be ban it now, not rip people off with massive taxation."

On being told about it John Key clearly liked what he heard.

"I think it's quite a good idea actually. Parliament is a place where we show direction and leadership for the country and if the environment here was to go completely smokefree, obviously inside already is, but in the wider precinct I think that would be quite a good sign."

Mr Lotu-Iinga would likely support a ban.

"Depends on what the terms are but smoking is pretty much banned in a lot of places around Parliament."

Meanwhile, neither National nor Labour are backing the e-cigarette phenomenon as a way to give up smoking.

Both are saying more research has to be done to establish whether the vapour is health safe.

Labour leader Andrew Little said he'd like to know more about e-cigarettes before giving them his stamp of approval.

"We know there's a big issue at the moment with the consequences of smoking - we're all trying to minimize that harm, so before we embrace something new that looks kind of flash and has the letter 'e' in front of it, let's go and do a bit of homework and find out what the consequences actually are."

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