'Lead by example, ban smoking in Parliament grounds'

David White Fairfax Media

We ask Wellingtonians if the city should go smoke free

Cigarettes packets will be adorned in graphic health warnings by early next year, but the Maori Party wants the Government to lead by example and ban all smoking inside Parliament grounds.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox issued the challenge during a speech in support of the legislative changes, which the Maori Party has spent years calling for. 

Earlier on Tuesday, the Government used World No Tobacco Day to unveil plans to strip cigarettes of all marketing.

Australia's plain packaging laws have become a major test case for global tobacco companies in their fight against ...
Supplied

Australia's plain packaging laws have become a major test case for global tobacco companies in their fight against restrictions on sale of cigarettes.

Instead, they will be emblazoned with graphic health warnings depicting the consequences of smoking on human organs. 

Lung cancer was the biggest cause of death in New Zealand, with about 5000 Kiwis killed each year from smoking-related diseases. 

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Associate Health Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga made the announcement about packaging alongside Fox and Wellington City Council Mayor Celia-Wade Brown on Tuesday morning.
Prime Minister John Key says the outcome of a legal case in Australia has made the Government more confident about the ...
SIMON WATTS/GETTY IMAGES

Prime Minister John Key says the outcome of a legal case in Australia has made the Government more confident about the push for plain packaging. "We know nothing kills you with greater predictability than smoking."

"The Government is proposing to use the standard brown-green packaging which is similar to what is used in Australia," Lotu-Iiga said.

"We're proposing that mandatory health warnings will cover at least 75 per cent of the front of the packs and all tobacco imagery will be removed. Brand names will be allowed but regulations will standardise how and where the printing is.

"These draft regulations and consultation are another important step in the process towards Smokefree 2025."

Legislation is sitting at its second reading in Parliament and is expected to be passed this year.  

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Prime Minister John Key said the Government expected plain packaging to hit shelves "early next year".  

The Government has set a goal for New Zealand to be smoke free by 2025, although health officials have conceded it's unlikely to be achieved. 

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says plain packaging was one of a range of measures that needed to be adopted to ...
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox says plain packaging was one of a range of measures that needed to be adopted to prevent a new generation of smokers.

Its legislation for plain packaging will gain cross-party support, with Labour leader Andrew Little confirming his party will back it. 

"We support plain packaging, yes, so it's good to see that after some time they're now putting that back on the table and getting the legislation moving again through the House." 

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei was also supportive, saying it was "about time" the industry was regulated. 

"It's about time the industry was being controlled. Too much of our focus has been on controlling people who smoke cigarettes - people who have the addiction, and not enough on the industry that provides this product for a profit."

'BAN SMOKING INSIDE PARLIAMENT GROUNDS'

Fox said she thought of the idea to ban smoking inside Parliament's grounds after speaking with Wade-Brown about Wellington Council's action plan. 

Wade-Brown announced the council's action plan, which included a sleek new video campaign and would see public areas within the capital made smokefree.

That included Civic Square, bus stops, the Botanic Garden, Waitangi Park, council housing, council-operated community centres, pools, recreation centres, building entrances and laneways.

Wade-Brown said a number of cafe's were already included within these areas and the council was working with cafe owners to make more outdoor dining areas smoke free. 

Parliament's grounds, while public, do not fall within the council's jurisdictions and any ruling on whether smoking was permitted in them would ultimately fall to the Speaker of the House. 

While the Government's plain packaging moves have gained wide cross-party support, MP's views on Fox's proposal on a Parliament smoking ban were decidedly more mixed. 

Prime Minister John Key backed a smoking ban at Parliament, saying it was another way to "show leadership through our actions".

"Parliament's a place where we show direction and leadership for the country, and if the environment was to go completely smoke-free ... in the wider precinct, I think that would be quite a good sign."

Justice Minister Amy Adams said she had "never given [a ban] any thought", while Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett was also unsure about the idea.

"I haven't really thought about it. I think a lot of places are going smoke-free these days, but I'm sort of also one that thinks there's some sort of individual choice as well."

Turei said pushing smokers outside Parliament grounds would only further punish smokers, who had an addiction. 

NZ First leader Winston Peters said the Maori Party was in Government, and "if she was sincere about it, ban smoking now". 

Labour MP Phil Twyford said he would be "totally relaxed" about a smoking ban, while Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell said it would set "a good precedent".

Lotu-Iiga said he had already spoken with Fox about her idea and she would need to put it to Parliament's Business Committee. 

"I probably would [support it]. Depends on what it looked like," he said. 

'THE DEADLY REALITY OF TOBACCO USE'

The Government's moves toward plain packaging, first kicked off by former Maori Party co-leader Dame Tariana Turia, follows failed legal action by big tobacco companies in Australia. 

Marama Fox was elated at the announcement. 

"We've hounded the Government on this issue for several years. It is also a message to international tobacco companies that New Zealand will not be intimidated by threats of legal action.

"I've been to too many tangi of whanau and friends who have died early as a result of the smoking habit. It's a waste not just for those that pass away early but also for their whanau.

"We need to be adopting a range of measures to both support those who want to quit and deter the next generation from starting to smoke," she said. 

Late last year, US tobacco company Philip Morris failed in a legal challenge against the law - brought about under a bilateral free trade agreement Australia has with Hong Kong. A World Trade Organisation challenge is ongoing. 

On Monday, Key said the outcome of the Australian case had made the Government "more confident" about its position.

"At the time, the advice that I was getting was that because they were very uncertain about what would happen as a result of the lawsuit that the major tobacco companies were taking against the Australian government, that the most prudent thing I could do was see how that played out."

The World Health Organisation Director General Margaret Chan said tobacco packaging was a form of advertising that often mislead consumers and hid the deadly reality of tobacco use.

"New evidence from Australia, the first country to fully implement plain packaging, shows that changes to tobacco packaging there led to over 100,000 fewer smokers in Australia in the first 34 months since implementation in 2012.

"The evidence tells us that plain packaging reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products," she said. 

But tobacco giant British American Tobacco issued a thinly veiled warning to the Government on Monday, saying it should proceed with caution. 

"BATNZ hopes that the Government will review all the evidence and be cautious about progressing a measure that has failed in Australia.

"We believe it would be wise for the Government to await the outcome of legal challenges on plain packaging by four countries at the World Trade Organisation, before introducing plain packaging here," head of legal and external affairs Saul Derber said.

 - Stuff

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