New Zealand has the "sovereign right" to protect its citizens
and will not be told what to do by tobacco companies, Tariana Turia
says, as plain packaging of cigarettes passed its first hurdle.
Last night Turia, Associate Minister of Health, introduced the
Smokefree Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill
into Parliament, and it passed its first vote by 118 votes to
It has now been referred to the Health Select Committee for
public consultation. National, Labour, the Greens are all
supporting it, while New Zealand First was expected to support it
at least through to select committee.
Eventually the legislation would see all branding removed from
all tobacco products, aside from the name of the variation in small
plain type, with large warnings about the risks posed by
Turia said that despite legal challenges to similar measures
across the Tasman, she was confident it met New Zealand's
"While the tobacco industry may have laid down a threat that if
this legislation is passed [it will be challenged] my message to
them is that our country has a sovereign right and a legal right to
protect its citizens," she told Parliament.
"I am firmly of the opinion that it is not for any tobacco
company to be telling us what we should be doing in our own land,"
she said, adding that the harm done by smoking meant politicians
were obliged to act.
"Five thousand New Zealanders die from smoking a year and that
death toll places a responsibility on every politician to pass
legislation in our land that will help save lives and increase
The final legislation will await the outcome of World Trade
Organisation (WTO) challenges to plain packaging in Australia,
which introduced the measures at the start of 2013, before branding
is stripped in New Zealand.
However tobacco companies still say the Government should wait
until those challenges are resolved before starting the legislative
British American Tobacco, which controls more than two-thirds of
the national tobacco market, said the risk to New Zealand's trading
relationships was "worryingly real" with five countries challenging
the Australian Government over its plain packaging legislation at
"We believe it would be wise for the Government to wait for WTO
challenges to be resolved before considering the introduction of
plain packaging here," BAT spokeswoman Susan Jones said.
"Plain packaging constitutes a severe restriction on the use of
our intellectual property, including trademarks. This is a huge
concern to us, as it would be to any business, because the effect
is to render our trademarks unusable."
ACT party leader John Banks opposes the bill.
Ahead of the vote he said he opposed smoking and supported
measures to stop young people taking it up, but he did not believe
plain packaging would work, likening it to "rain dancing".
"I don't believe the State should seize property rights from
legitimate companies selling legitimate products," he said.
"There's no international evidence I'm aware of that tells us
that plain packaging helps young people not to start smoking.
"If we want to get serious about smoking and dealing with the
habit of smoking and the consequences, then increase the price and
I suggest the Government should double it tonight," he said, adding
that plain packaging was "not going to work. It's a sop".