Editorial: Brands have good cause to be worried

Last updated 05:00 21/01/2013

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OPINION: The orchestrated campaign by tobacco companies to try and sink plans to force them to sell their deadly products in plain packets will be music to the ears of Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia.

As Action on Smoking and Health spokesman Michael Colhoun noted, the ''scream test'' is a good indication of how effective any initiative to reduce smoking rates might be. This holds that the louder the tobacco companies squeal, the greater chance of the measure having the desired result.

When it comes to plain packaging, the tobacco industry is squealing in unison.

Submissions on the Government's proposal, driven by Mrs Turia, have revealed intense opposition from tobacco companies around the world. Many of the submissions are from lobby groups linked to the industry, and in one case, the same submission was lodged by eight cigar companies based in different nations.

New Zealand's three main tobacco companies have also hinted at legal action to halt the move.

The Government should not be deterred by that threat.

Australia's High Court last year rejected industry claims that the introduction of plain packets across the Tasman amounted to theft of intellectual property, the main argument used by tobacco companies.

What they really fear is that plain packaging, likely to see them forced to sell their products in packets of uniform colour, with health warnings the dominant feature and brand names in small text, will result in a drop in people taking up the life-threatening habit.

They have good cause to be worried. A report on plain packaging from Germany's Berenberg Bank last year described it as ''the most material outstanding threat'' to the tobacco industry and said that it was expected to have a big impact on preventing young people from taking up smoking.

Tobacco companies have tried to strengthen their case by arguing that enforcing plain packaging on their industry will be the thin end of the wedge. It will soon be followed, they say, by a requirement that alcohol companies follow suit.

However, a good case can be made for distinguishing between the two. Alcohol can be safely consumed in moderation. Indeed, there are hundreds of studies that show that small amounts are in fact beneficial. The health risks from alcohol stem from overconsumption.

The same cannot be said of tobacco. There is no such thing as a safe cigarette.In New Zealand, the harm from smoking claims 5000 lives every year and requires an extra $2 billion to be spent in the health sector.

The Government has already taken many sensible steps to discourage people from taking up a habit that could kill them. Incremental tax increases that began in January, and which will see the price of a pack of 20 cigarettes rise to $21 by 2016, was one.

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Stopping tobacco companies from presenting their products in a way that can glamourise a killer substance will be another.

- The Dominion Post

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