Tobacco boss says some regulation OK

NICK KRAUSE
Last updated 15:53 22/08/2012

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New Zealand's tobacco industry is already heavily regulated and the Government's plain packaging proposals for cigarette packets is a step too far, the country's biggest cigarette manufacturer has said.

In a rare media interview, Steve Rush, general manager of British American Tobacco New Zealand, agreed smoking was harmful and that it should be regulated.

But he said just because a regulation is anti-tobacco, doesn't make it good policy.

The powerful tobacco company has launched a campaign to persuade the government against plain cigarette packaging, a move already underway in Australia.

New Zealand already had "a very comprehensive" tobacco control policy in place, Rush said, and the Government had to examine the efficacy of the new proposals before "blindly copying" Australia.

The industry had felt the brunt of regulation for more than 20 years, he said, including banning tobacco advertising, sponsorship and office workplace smoking in 1990.

Then in 1997, packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes and loose tobacco pouches were banned, followed by a full ban on smoking in restaurants, pubs, clubs, factories, schools and the like in 2003. Graphic health warnings were introduced in 2008 and a programme of three 10 per cent excise increases above the CPI over three years came in 2010.

A new law banning the display of tobacco came into force last month.

The High Court in Australia last week ruled that plain packaging legislation did not contravene the Australian constitution. Its plain packaging policy is due to take effect in October. A consultation document on a similar proposal for New Zealand was released last month but the policy is under a cloud of probable legal action.

British American Tobacco is preparing submissions to put to Government in October.

Rush said plain packaging diminished intellectual property rights at the expense of New Zealand brands and his company will highlight the impact this proposal may have on international trade and the "troubling precedent" its sets for the wider economy.

There were real dangers, too, he claimed that the proposal could foster illegal trade and make tobacco more affordable, counter to the Government's objectives.

"Removing the rights of a legal business to use their own branding would have repercussions far wider than tobacco," he said.

The listed London-based British American Tobacco Group is currently ranked eighth on the FTSE-100. British American Tobacco New Zealand is the country's largest tobacco company, with a 72 per cent market share.

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Its brands include Dunhill, Lucky Strike, Benson and Hedges, Rothmans, Pall Mall and Holiday and roll-your-own tobacco Port Royal and Park Drive.

Last year BATNZ paid $875.1 million in excise and GST along with company taxes of $47.1m  - some 1.8 per cent of all government tax revenues, it claimed.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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