|Government intensifies anti-tobacco push|
Trina Snow (executive director, NARGON) considers the impact of the new restrictions.
Just three years ago Health Minister Hon Tony Ryall repeatedly assured NARGON that his Government had no plans to restrict the display of tobacco products unless compelling evidence was produced that it would actually reduce smoking.
Fast forward to today and the same Government is not only about to introduce strict tobacco display bans from 23 July 2012, but is also clearly signalling that all cigarettes will soon have to be sold in plain khaki packaging.
Cabinet has made an ‘in-principle’ decision to introduce a similar plain packaging regime as Australia although there will be public consultation later in the year.
From the outside, it does not seem like the Government has received any significant new scientific evidence relating to tobacco displays or packaging since the 2008 election. What appears to have changed is the political landscape. Despite a record result in the last election, the National Party remains reliant on its various coalition and support partners to ensure a razor-thin majority in Parliament.
Given the serious questions around the Act party following what has been dubbed in Wellington as the “Banksdotcom” donation scandal, the Maori Party is in a very strong position and clearly knows it. Co-leader Hon Tariana Turia is determined to push through stringent anti-smoking laws before she retires at the next election and this is largely the impetus behind the government’s crusading anti-smoking agenda. The stated aim is to make New Zealand a smoke-free country by 2025.
While National will try to frame the tobacco restrictions as public health measures, there is unarguably some hard ball politics at play. Additionally, they will know that no government ever gained popularity by defending big tobacco companies. So, despite the government’s promise to consult with the public on plain packaging, it is virtually certain the draft plain packaging measures will pass unchanged – regardless of any evidence or arguments provided during the process.
Cabinet’s intention is that all cigarette packets will be a bland and deliberately unappealing khaki green colour, covered in graphic health warnings and display the brand and type of cigarette only in a small, uniform and non-descript font. The proposals appear to have broad political support and, if introduced, are expected to pass easily, probably unanimously. Act is the only party which might vote against the legislation.
Tobacco companies have warned against the move saying it will not reduce smoking rates, would infringe on their intellectual property rights and breach several free trade agreements signed by New Zealand.
Imperial Tobacco told the British government, which is considering similar legislation, that “tobacco packaging has never been identified as a reason why people start to smoke or continue to smoke”.
Australia was the first country in the world to pass tough plain packaging legislation and the government there is currently involved in a High Court case after the major tobacco companies took legal action. New Zealand’s Government will almost be hoping that the United Kingdom and Australia run the legal gauntlet against challenges from the tobacco industry before we introduce essentially the same scheme here. Conversely, the tobacco industry may be tempted to target New Zealand because we are the smallest jurisdiction and have signed up to the most free trade agreements.
A consortium of American organisations active in New Zealand – including the US Chamber of Commerce and the United States Council for International Business – have issued a statement claiming tobacco firms’ logos and branding are protected by laws and international treaties.
However, Prime Minister John Key denies New Zealand has signed any agreements that would stop Parliament introducing plain packaging. However, he acknowledges that any group can test its case in court.
Stores should be gearing up to ensure they are ready for the new tobacco display restrictions which come into force on 23 July. However, they also need to be aware that further restrictions on displays, packaging and sales are likely as the Government, pushed by the Maori Party, continues to clamp down on tobacco.