New Zealand is unlikely to introduce plain packaging on cigarettes before trade challenges to Australian legislation are settled, Prime Minister John Key says.
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said today that the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Products and Packaging) Amendment Bill had been lodged with the Clerk of the House.
The legislation was expected to have its first reading in the House early next year before being sent to a parliamentary select committee.
Australia introduced plain packaging on December 1 last year, having successfully defended the legislation from a court challenge brought by the world's major tobacco companies, but the battle against the measure continues.
Turia said Australia faced World Trade Organisation challenges against plain packaging from Ukraine, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia.
Key said that while the legislation would be introduced next year, it would almost certainly not be passed until the outcome of the challenge to Australia was known.
"It will almost certainly be introduced, have its first reading, then go off to the select committee," he said.
"But it's very, very unlikely it will be passed. In fact, in my view it shouldn't be passed until we've actually had a ruling out of Australia.
"We think it's prudent to wait till we see a ruling out of Australia. If there's a successful legal challenge out of Australia, that would guide us how legislation might be drafted in New Zealand.
"So we're not going to rush that through, but also equally it's the type of topic that's worthy of a significant public debate and we can do that through the select committee process."
New Zealand's only major tobacco manufacturer, Imperial Tobacco, said that not only would introducing the legislation damage the country's trading reputation, it would do nothing to curb smoking.
"There is no evidence to suggest plain packaging will reduce smoking rates, despite what the anti-smoking lobby says,'' Imperial Tobacco's New Zealand manager, Brendan Walker, said.
''Plain packaging will have serious negative repercussions but will not achieve any of the positive gains the Government seeks to achieve.
"Plain packaging certainly hasn't had any effect in Australia. Tobacco sales in Australia have been unaffected since plain packaging was introduced.
"At the same time, levels of illicit trade have increased and there has been a negative impact on retailers, who have had to bear the burden of this unnecessary legislation."
Turia said plain packaging would change how people viewed smoking.
"Removing tobacco company colours, logos and other marketing ploys designed to make tobacco products glamorous and attractive is an important step in reducing the uptake of smoking," she said.
"Tobacco is a deadly product that kills 5000 New Zealanders every year and is one of the leading causes of life-threatening illnesses such as heart and lung disease and cancer.
"Plain packaging, together with bigger health warnings, will send a clear message that tobacco causes serious illness and death."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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