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Plain packaging: why are we waiting?

Plain packaging: why are we waiting?

Dr Prudence Stone, Executive Director, The Smokefree Coalition, 11 April 2016

The Smokefree Coalition, along with groups like the Cancer Society, has been advocating for plain packaging since the measure was adopted in Australia back in 2011. Similar legislation was introduced here in 2014 but has been ‘back-burnered’ due to Government fears that we’ll be caught up in expensive international arbitration like Australia has been.

Back in February Prime Minister John Key indicated our legislation could soon be back on the cards, but since then we’ve heard exactly zip. We’ve signed the TPP in which tobacco companies are excluded from litigation against governments; the public seems ready and willing; and the evidence is in that plain packaging will help prevent a lot of suffering and death.

So why are we still waiting?

The move by Philip Morris International (PMI) to litigate against Australia has shown good returns. It may not have won, but the millions of dollars’ worth of red tape it takes to fight such a deathly rich international company has frightened many governments and slowed the introduction of plain packaging around the world.

But not in Australia; not in France; not in the UK; and not in many smaller states.

It is almost every month now that another nation shows courage in the face of such industry bullying, and announces the introduction of plain packaging legislation. Some have even put their legislation on fast-tracks.

But our Government seems yet to have found its pluck.

One has to ask what industry influences are going on behind the scenes preventing the prioritisation of our plain packaging legislation on Parliament’s order paper. Despite the public support, despite all the evidence from across the Tasman showing plain packaging is having the impact on tobacco consumption and smoking cessation we said it would, our Government looks down at its toes and drags its feet.


New Zealand is a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This is a World Health Organization treaty between most of the United Nations, with guidelines on how to prevent the tobacco industry from influencing democratic processes and government decision-making. We would argue the Government's prioritisation of the fiscal costs of expected litigation over the health of its people is tantamount to breaching our obligations under that Framework.

The burden smoking has on New Zealand's health system and economy, as well as personally on those addicted to tobacco is immense. We could put a dent in that burden very quickly and effectively by fast-tracking out plain packaging legislation.

We should not still be waiting.

We urge the Government to stop dragging its feet and to get the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill through the gate before it is too late for those children who will be lured to smoking by colourful and glamorous tobacco packs.

It’s already too late for too many.


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