Editorial: Plainly the enemy

When Big Tobacco people start a sentence with "There is no credible evidence," it raises questions about credibility.

These were the guys who were just a decade or two behind everyone else in twigging that their product, when used as intended, was harmful. Either they were a bit naive on this point, and badly advised by all those scientists they paid all that money to, or the industry was deceitful, grasping and flat-out evil.

Right now, Philip Morris New Zealand is saying that the Government's plans to introduce plain packaging are ill-conceived because there's no credible evidence plain packaging will lower smoking rates. British American Tobacco NZ tends to agree.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia would beg to differ. The evidence from experimental studies, marketing experts and the industry's own documents is overwhelming, she says.

According to a Cambridge University study reported in the British Medical Journal, tobacco control experts around the world estimate that two years after the introduction of generic packaging the number of adult smokers would be reduced by one percentage point.

Unimpressive as a percentage; rather more so if you think in terms of the pile of bodies. The World Health Organisation says tobacco kills nearly 6 million people a year. In New Zealand the figure is put at 5000.

No packaging change will be introduced in New Zealand until we, and the rest of the watching world, find out how Australia, the only country to have required plain packaging, fares once the legal recrimination from the tobacco companies over trade agreements and international property rights plays out.

There is good reason to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the tobacco companies, but the legal challenges mounted by these ugly companies do need to be tested.

So the issues are legality and effectiveness. The tobacco companies' line is that not only is plain packaging ineffectual, but other schemes, including increased excise taxes and banning retail displays, just haven't been thoroughly evaluated yet.

They are not collaborators in the process. They are the enemy. We cannot take our lead on what constitutes thorough evaluation from these clowns, as if we all want the same thing and they maintain a front of disappointment that so many people keep buying their poisonous product.

The Marlborough Express