17 Dec 2013

Tobacco packaging bill introduced

9:39 pm on 17 December 2013

Legislation introducing plain packaging for tobacco in New Zealand will start making its way through Parliament in 2014, but won't pass into law until legal action in Australia has been settled.

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia introduced the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Products and Packaging) Amendment Bill to Parliament on Tuesday.

Tariana Turia.

Tariana Turia. Photo: RNZ

The law change would require cigarettes and tobacco to be sold in standardised packets with large health warnings.

The New Zealand Government had been waiting for courts in Australia to have settled challenges to plain packaging before proceeding.

British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco, which are already suing the Australian government, have threatened to take similar action if plain packaging is introduced in New Zealand.

However, Tariana Turia said on Tuesday she wants to get the legislative process underway.

"So while they've been subject to considerable delays, we think it's probably a bit premature to make a decision on when the legislation should be bought into force, because we're really waiting to see how they progress."

Mrs Turia said Australia's plain packaging regime is still subject to World Trade Organisation challenges, but the Government is convinced plain packaging is a really important step that needs to be made now. She said tobacco is a deadly product that kills 5000 New Zealanders every year.

Michael Colhoun, from anti-smoking group ASH, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Tuesday the Government should just get on with it.

"The Government has a goal to be smoke-free by 2025. That's a very, very bold goal. Only one other country in the world has that same goal - and their goal is by 2040. So unless you take bold measures like this and push them through as quick as possible, you won't get to the bigger goal - which is smoke-free by 2025."

Mr Colhoun said the legal arguments from the tobacco companies over branding have little merit because under the New Zealand legislation, brands could still be included - just not as prominently.

Critics of a Trans-Tasman Partnership deal, which is still under negotiation, say the agreement over plain packaging could make it harder to fight off legal action.

Tariana Turia said she would be extremely annoyed if that was the case, but she hasn't been given any information to suggest that the final deal would compromise the ability to defend plain packaging.