Leader doesn't back MP's 'wimp' call

JOHN HARTEVELT
Last updated 11:36 24/07/2012

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Prime Minister John Key has been labelled a ''wimp'' for refusing to commit to plain packaging of tobacco.

But the taunt, from Labour MP Clare Curran, is not backed by her leader David Shearer who said Key's cautious approach was ''actually a responsible thing to do''.

Key today confirmed a decision on whether or not to back plain packaging would follow months of consultation on a discussion paper issued yesterday. The paper warned there was a ''reasonably high risk'' of legal action from tobacco companies and tobacco producing nations if the policy was implemented - action that would cost millions of dollars in costs alone.

Key said there were ''lots of things to consider'' before implementing the policy and ''I wouldn't say it's a slam dunk by any chance''.

''Plain packaging is one more step in the desire to see less New Zealanders smoke but it's probably going to be less effective than some of the other things we've done anyway,'' Key said today.

Curran last night responded to Key's position via Twitter, linking to a Stuff story on the issue and adding the comment: ''wimp''.

Shearer, however, agreed the Government should ''look before we jump'' on the policy.

Asked if Labour would push on with the proposal, Shearer said: ''I think it's good to look at the issues around it and not be blind about where we're going to and I think John Key is right on that.''

Labour wanted plain packaging but looking in detail at the costs and strategy to implement it was ''a smart thing to do,'' he said.

''I actually think that what John Key is doing in this case is actually a responsible thing to do. What he should be doing is checking out what's entailed in terms of costs. I hope we will be able to move forward and have plain paper packaging.''

Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said Key was "wavering" on the issue.

"He has given tobacco giants the motivation to step up their efforts," Hague said.

Tobacco companies in Australia have launched legal action against the Government over the policy, complaining over the loss of trademark. The Dominican Republic last week joined Ukraine and Honduras in action against Australia via the World Trade Organisation (WTO). New Zealand is likely to face similar legal action if it pursues the policy, which would cost millions of dollars to defend.

Despite the legal risks, Health Ministry officials back the policy saying studies have shown that plain packaging would help drive down smoking rates and curb the flow-on effects for second-hand smoke.

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''This would reduce premature death and contribute to the Government's stated goal of a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025,'' officials said.

- Stuff

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