Law may enforce plain khaki cigarette packets

BRONWYN TORRIE
Last updated 14:13 20/04/2012

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Cigarette packets could be khaki green and emblazoned with health messages rather than the colourful brands currently used to lure smokers.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said tobacco companies would still be able to print their brands on the neutral or green coloured cigarette packets.

"The brand will be on there ... but not in the way it is now."

The Government's ban on branded cigarette packets is the next step to making New Zealand smokefree by 2025 and could be introduced in July.

Tobacco giants are vowing to battle the move to plain packaging, which they say won't reduce smoking rates.

Instead, it will infringe on their intellectual property rights and see their profits go up in smoke.

Turia said the tobacco industry had to understand that domestic laws were not determined by them.

"Their interest is in profit, our interest is in keeping our communities and our people well and basically that's why we're doing this."

It is hoped plain packaging would stub out the number of young people taking up the deadly habit, which kills 13 people each day and more than 5000 people each year, Turia said.

"We know how important branding is and particularly its appeal to young people and we've had a huge focus really on moving young people away from uptake and that's what we'll be concentrating on."

Labour's Associate Health spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway said the industry had a "long history of supporting measures it knows won't reduce smoking rates and fighting those that will".

"In fact, the more noise they make, the more I am convinced we are on the right track."

Lees-Galloway said the days of tobacco regulation dividing parliament were over and politicians were united in the goal of a smokefree New Zealand.

However, New Zealand First leader and Foreign Affairs spokesperson Winston Peters said the ban could open the floodgates for expensive lawsuits once the Government ratifies the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement with nine countries, including the United States, later this year.

"It empowers multinational companies to sue the New Zealand Government whenever the companies believe their interests are being threatened by government policy.

"It locks in successive New Zealand governments who will forever be glancing over their shoulder as foreign barons circle with multi-million dollar lawsuits glinting in their eyes."

The Australian Government is currently involved in High Court action with major tobacco companies after being the first country to introduce tough legislation last year.

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The Green Party said it supported the move to introduce plain packaging and said the Government needed to stand up to legal attacks from the tobacco lobby.

"There is clear evidence that the plain packaging of cigarettes will help to reduce smoking addiction," Green Party Co-leader Metiria Turei said.

"Reducing smoking addition is especially important for Maori and Pacifika communities where there is a high incidence of smoking related health issues and deaths."

- The Dominion Post

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