31 May 2016

Old cigarette packs may go up in smoke

8:50 pm on 31 May 2016

Plain cigarette packaging is on the cards after Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga released draft regulations to end tobacco imagery on packs.

Illustration of a neutral cigarette packet, in Paris, on September 8, 2015. French government wants to reintroduce neutral cigarette packaging in his new draft Health law.

An illustration of plain packaging used in the French government's push for similar laws in September. Photo: AFP

The legislation had been on hold after tobacco companies tried to sue the Australian government, after it introduced it in 2012 - but last year the legal challenge failed.

Mr Lotu-liga released draft regulations this morning and asked to hear people's views on the issue.

He said plain packaging would reduce the appeal and acceptability of cigarettes and tobacco and make warnings more effective.

Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-liga.

Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga announced the draft regulations today. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Mr Lotu-Iiga said a standard brown-green packaging similar to Australia's design was the plan, but wide input would be needed.

The law resulted in a 14 percent reduction in tobacco sales in Australia.

"We are demanding from New Zealanders to give us feedback as to what you want to see in a standardised packaging because we know that tobacco products are harmful and highly addictive.

"We know that the design and the appearance of tobacco products and its packaging remain powerful marketing tools."

Mr Lotu-Iiga said mandatory health warnings would cover at least three quarters of the front of the packs and all tobacco imagery would be removed.

Brand names would be allowed, but there would be restrictions about how and where they could be printed on cigarette packets.

The draft also suggested limiting the number of cigarettes in a pack to 20 or 25, and restricting the dimensions of the packs.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said the draft regulations and consultation were another important step in the process towards making New Zealand smoke free by 2025.

"Twelve New Zealanders die prematurely every day from smoking-related illnesses. Each of these deaths is preventable," he said.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox (from left), Wellington Mayor Celia Wade Brown and Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-liga.

Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox (from left), Wellington Mayor Celia Wade Brown and Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-liga. Photo: RNZ / Karen Brown

Prime Minister John Key said the measure was likely to be in place by early next year and although it was not impossible the tobacco industry could sue the government, there was less risk associated with it now.

"I'm not worried about a lawsuit but we can't rule out that there wouldn't be one," he said.

"They may well take a case against the government, but the advice we have been getting over time now has been that the risks of them being successful - or the likelihood of them being successful - is reducing."

Mr Key said there may be a role for electronic cigarettes to help people transition away from smoking in the long term, if health advice proved them to be safe.

Mr Key said the government should lead by example and ban smoking in Parliament grounds.

He said such a ban would be tough on smokers but it was the right thing to do.

Labour's health spokesperson Annette King said her party will support the bill.

"We supported it to the select committee, we supported it in the select committee and we will support it through all stages, it is one more tool to help reduce the consumption and the prevalence of tobacco in New Zealand."

Dame Tariana Turia, who pushed for and helped draft the law during Helen Clark's administration and afterwards, told Nine to Noon it should have been introduced years ago.

The Retailers Association said introducing plain packaging for cigarettes would make life more difficult for dairy owners and some may stop selling cigarettes.

Its spokesperson Greg Harford said cigarette sales were already heavily restricted, with tobacco products required to be locked away and not visible.

But an anti-smoking group said tobacco control was up against a powerful enemy driven by profit rather than public health.

Smokefree Coalition executive director Prudence Stone said the move was needed to combat an industry that she said was driven by the profit motive and not by community public health needs.

Retailers have been found flouting the law by selling to children, she said.

She also wants a bylaw registering and licencing tobacco retailers.

People have until the end of July to make a submission.

Mr Lotu-Iiga said the regulations would not take effect until The Smokefree Environments (Tobacco Plain Packing) Amendment Bill was passed. The bill is due before the house in the next couple of weeks.

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