Tobacco plain packaging to be introduced
The Government has confirmed it is to introduce plain packaging for tobacco products.
The announcement was made by Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia this afternoon.
Turia said it was a "good day for New Zealand" and would reduce the last hint of glamour from smoking.
She said the Government was aware of the legal risks from tobacco companies, and would wait until legal cases were completed in Australia before the policy was introduced here.
"I know that when we look back we will know we had made the right decision today," she said.
There was "no doubt" the Australian legal decisions would impact the changes here, Turia said.
But she was confident plain packages could be introduced in line with world trade obligations.
The tobacco companies were very litigious and had outlined plans for a legal challenge, Turia said.
If everything went smoothly plain packaging could be on the shelves by next year sometime.
Legislation would be introduced by the end of the year and policy work would begin immediately.
Turia said the legislation was not expected to be passed until next year and tobacco companies would not be able to launch legal campaigns until it was in force.
Earlier, lawmakers were warned that they could expect a legal challenge to plain packaging to be tabled the day after it passed through Parliament.
Daniel Kalderimis, a partner at law firm Chapman Tripp, said any decision to adopt plain packaging, were that to be chosen by the Government, would lead to a range of legal challenges, both to the process of the legislation and under international law.
These could include a legal challenge to the consultation process adopted by the Health Ministry, claims that the Government had breached its World Trade Organisation [WTO] obligations, or for tobacco companies to sue alleging breaches of bilateral investment treaties.
Kalderimis said the bilateral treaty route would be the most concerning for the Government because it allowed tobacco companies to seek damages, rather than WTO breaches which would force the Government to reconsider its processes or measures.
It was most likely that tobacco companies would use New Zealand's bilateral trade agreement with Hong Kong to launch a challenge, Kalderimis said, because while it had a public health provision, ''it wasn't drafted with the same care and protection'' as more recent agreements.
Law changes would likely be met with the filing of legal challenges ''the next day'' as was the case in Australia, Kalderimis said.
Opting to introduce plain packaging in a staged process - as has been reported - was a lower risk option, but would not stop action being launched immediately.
''It might give grounds for the Government to argue that they ought to be stayed or the determination needs to be slowed down because there's no ripe issue that needs determination immediately, but you'll definitely get a case filed.''
Labour Party leader David Shearer has promised cross-party support for plain packaging for tobacco products.
Prime Minister John Key said this morning that based on the assumption that the measure was introduced, in a staged manner, a legal challenge would be expected.
"But the Government's working through those issues," he said.
Shearer later told reporters he supported plain packaging, and confirmed Labour was offering cross-party support for legislation to introduce it.
"Yes we are," he said.
"It's a good idea, it will benefit New Zealanders. It'll obviously have health benefits, bring down health costs - I think it's good all round."
He believed the industry should be given notice of the changes.
"We would want to forewarn what was going to happen but I believe it should probably be quite quick and it should go ahead straight-forwardly," Shearer said.
At 11am a stock on iPredict, which allows traders to bet on political events, said the chance of legislation introducing plain packaging being given Royal Assent by the start of 2015 was 31 per cent, having fluctuated between 10 per cent and 36 per cent this morning.