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Tariana Turia

19 February, 2013

Government moves forward with plain packaging of tobacco products

The Government has decided it will bring in legislation to put tobacco products into plain packaging.

In April last year the Government had agreed 'in principle' to introduce a plain packaging regime in alignment with Australia pending the outcome of a public consultation process. The public consultation closed on 5 October 2012 and Cabinet considered a report on the consultation outcomes on Monday.

Plain packaging for tobacco will mean cigarette packs and tobacco pouches will have much larger pictorial health warnings and be stripped of the marketing imagery tobacco companies use to promote their products. The colours and design of the packs will be standardised in regulations designed to maximise the impact of the health warnings. Tobacco brand names will have to be printed in standard type fonts and sizes.

In announcing the decision to legislate for plain packaging, Associate Minister of Health Hon Tariana Turia said the consultation process generated a lot of interest and the written submissions provided useful information to inform Cabinet’s decision-making. Ultimately, Cabinet is satisfied that plain packaging is an important tool to improve the health of New Zealanders.

Around 300 substantive written submissions were received, as well as a further 20,000 plus postcards, form letters and signatures on petitions either in support or opposing plain packaging.

“I’d like to thank everyone who submitted on this important issue,” said Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia.

“While opinions were divided, with many smokers and tobacco retailers expressing opposition, overall the consultation process confirmed that plain packaging will be an effective means of reducing the appeal of smoking and removing the impression that tobacco may be less harmful than it is.

“The evidence from experimental studies, marketing experts and the tobacco industry’s own documents is overwhelming. We cannot continue to allow tobacco companies to use sophisticated packaging designs to promote their products as if they were ordinary everyday consumer goods.

“Currently the packaging does everything it can to attract consumers, and increase the perceived appeal and acceptability of smoking. The bright colours and other design elements divert people’s attention away from the health warnings which tell the truth about just how deathly dangerous smoking is.”

Mrs Turia said the move to plain packaging would make more explicit what tobacco is – a product that kills 5,000 New Zealanders each year.

“Current tobacco packaging not only helps promote smoking to young and vulnerable people, it also helps keep smokers smoking. This move to plain packaging will remove the last remaining vestige of glamour from these deadly products.

“I am delighted that New Zealand is on track to be the second country in the world to legislate for plain packaging. This is another major step on the pathway to becoming a Smoke-free nation by 2025.

“There is a risk that tobacco companies will try and mount legal challenges against any legislation, as we have seen in Australia

“In making this decision, the Government acknowledges that it will need to manage some legal risks. As we have seen in Australia, there is a possibility of legal proceedings.

“To manage this, Cabinet has decided that the Government will wait and see what happens with Australia’s legal cases, making it a possibility that if necessary, enactment of New Zealand legislation and/or regulations could be delayed pending those outcomes.

“The Ministry of Health will now begin developing the detailed policy which will include the size and content of health warnings. I intend to introduce the legislation to Parliament before the end of this year.

“Once again, I would like to acknowledge the community health workers, the NGO’s, medical practitioners and government agencies for their work on reducing the extreme harm caused by tobacco consumption and in achieving our long term goal of a Smoke-Free Aotearoa. I know that when we look back in 20 years this decision will be the right one.”