Anti-smoking group urges NZ to adopt plain tobacco packaging

An example of the plain packaging designed for cigarettes sold in Australia.
AP

An example of the plain packaging designed for cigarettes sold in Australia.

Anti-smoking groups want the Government to move faster on plain tobacco packaging legislation.

Ireland joined Australian during the weekend in passing laws enforcing plain packaging of tobacco products. Britain is also expected to pass similar laws this month.

But while New Zealand was one of the earliest proponents of plain packaging, the legislation has languished after its first reading, amid fears of an expensive legal battle with the tobacco industry.

The Government has said it continued to support plain packaging but further progress depended on Australia successfully defending its law against legal challenges, something that could stretch out past next year.

New Zealand has had legal and trade threats from the tobacco industry and some tobacco-producing nations if it proceeds with plain packaging.

Health Ministry officials have estimated a legal battle could cost $8 million.

But Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) spokeswoman Stephanie Erick said New Zealand was falling behind on plain packaging.

"We must not allow the tobacco industry to slow the momentum that has been set," she said.

Emeritus Professor Robert Beaglehole, at the University of Auckland, said there was clear evidence plain packaging had had a positive effect in reducing tobacco sales in Australia.

"The Australian evidence shows standardised packaging of cigarettes has had an immense impact on smoking and has worked almost like a 'vaccine' against tobacco use in children and young people," he said.

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Associate health minister Paseta Sam Lotu-liga said it was "prudent" to wait until the dispute had been resolved in Australia.

In the meantime, he was looking at other ways to reduce smoking.

"This Government is committed to a smokefree New Zealand by 2025."

Proponents of plain packaging have argued it reduces the appeal of tobacco, particularly to young people.

The tobacco industry and some international trade groups, argue that it will encourage black market tobacco to proliferate, and violates property rights and international trade regulations.

 - Stuff

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