Plain packaging of tobacco products drew a step closer this evening with legislation passing its first vote in Parliament - with just one opposing vote.
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia introduced the Smokefree Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill to Parliament for its first reading.
Eventually the legislation could see all branding removed from tobacco products, aside from the name of the variation in small plain type, with large warnings about the risks of smoking.
The legislation is almost certain to pass into law, although plain packaging could be years away, with the introduction awaiting the outcome of legal challenges to the measures which were introduced in Australia at the start of 2013.
Turia said as a great-grandmother, she was acutely aware of the importance of branding to the young.
“When tobacco manufacturers push tobacco, they are not simply selling a stick of nicotine; they are selling status, social acceptance and adventure.”
Plain packaging would build on other measures designed to curb tobacco use, such as annual 10 per cent tax increases, Turia said.
While the Government has said it expects legal challenges, Turia told Parliament that it would bring New Zealand into line with agreements with Australia and World Health Organisation conventions.
“I am confident that this Bill is consistent with all of New Zealand’s international obligations,” she said.
“Five-thousand New Zealanders die from smoking a year and that death toll places a responsibility on every politician to pass legislation in our land that will help save lives and increase wellbeing.”
National, Labour and the Greens all the legislation, while New Zealand First voted for it at least at first reading. It was sent to the Health Select Committee for public consultation by 118 votes to one.
Act leader John Banks opposes the bill. Ahead of the vote he said he was opposed to smoking and supported measures to stop young people taking it up, but he did not believe plain packaging would work, likening it to “rain dancing”.
“I don’t believe the state should seize property rights from legitimate companies selling legitimate products. There’s no international evidence I’m aware of that tells us that plain packaging helps young people not to start smoking,” Banks said.
“If we want to get serious about smoking, and dealing with the habit of smoking, and the consequences, then increase the price, and I suggest the government should double it tonight,” he said, adding that plain packaging was “not going to work. It’s a sop”.
Cigarette groups attacked the legislation.
British American Tobacco, which controls more than two thirds of the national tobacco market, said the risk to New Zealand’s trading relationships was “worryingly real” with five countries challenging the Australian Government for its plain packaging legislation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
“We believe it would be wise for the Government to wait for WTO challenges to be resolved before considering the introduction of plain packaging here,” BAT spokeswoman Susan Jones said.
“Plain packaging constitutes a severe restriction on the use of our intellectual property, including trademarks. This is a huge concern to us, as it would be to any business, because the effect is to render our trademarks unusable.”
The New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores, which includes Imperial Tobacco and Z Energy among its members, said the legislation would simply add costs for the retail sector.
"The Ministry of Health seems hell-bent on supporting legislation forcing plain packaging through, despite the Australian evidence showing retailers are in fact bearing the brunt of this latest attempt to stop people smoking," chairman Roger Bull said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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