TPP needs checking to ensure plain packaging not threatened Friday, 7 November 2014

Press Release: Smokefree Coalition

Members of the Smokefree Coalition are backing calls by health professionals to Trade Minister Hon Tim Groser, calling for a comprehensive health impact assessment of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement before New Zealand signs the dotted line.

Kerri Nuku, Kaiwhakahaere of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation says leaked text in October makes clear the TPP could give international business interests, such as Big Tobacco, the right to sue the New Zealand Government if it puts anti-tobacco legislation in place that will hurt their profits.

"That this trade agreement could impact on decision-making in the interests of public health is a very real possibility. Current World Trade Organization (WTO) arbitrations over Australia's plain packaging legislation are based on trade agreements, which are stalling a decision on plain packaging here in New Zealand as we speak."

Dr George Laking, Medical Oncologist and Board Member of the Smokefree Coalition, says New Zealand is a small nation, with a litigation budget far smaller than that of the tobacco industry giants, and therefore it would experience the threat of being taken to international courts by tobacco companies more acutely.

"The chilling effect of this heavy-handed standover tactic using international trade against Australia is already being felt in New Zealand, where our Government is adopting a 'wait and see' approach to plain packs legislation, despite good evidence from across the Tasman that the measure has lowered smoking rates substantially.

"Those results should be what affect decisions on health and tobacco advertising, but they're not. Instead the Government is worried it will also be sued, and how much the litigation could cost."

Members of the Smokefree Coalition are concerned at New Zealand's continued negotiation of the TPP - an even larger trade agreement that may have clauses that further strengthen foreign investors' rights to sue.

"The Government's commitment to the Smokefree 2025 Goal is left between a rock and a hard place, until New Zealand makes a stand like Australia and regards the value of our public's health gains more than the risk of litigation. A Health Impact Assessment is vital to ensure that risk is gone before we sign the dotted line," Dr Laking said.