The New Zealand government has announced plans to put all tobacco products into plain, standardised packaging with large, graphic health warnings.
The announcement comes ahead of a forthcoming decision from the UK government on whether to introduce similar legislation.
Australia became the first country to implement standardised packaging in December 2012.
New Zealand’s Associate Minister of Health Tariana Turia said the changes will boost public health and expressed her delight that New Zealand is on track to be only the second country to legislate for such packaging.
Under the new regulations, which have sparked a series of legal cases in Australia, tobacco companies are not allowed to use marketing imagery to promote products, with colours and designs instead being standardised to increase the impact of health warnings.
After a public consultation on the issue, Ms Turia acknowledged that there were a substantial number of responses on either side of the argument, but said it was vital to reduce the appeal of smoking.
She stressed that tobacco manufacturers should no longer be allowed to use sophisticated packaging designs 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 peoples attention away from the health warnings which tell the truth about just how deathly dangerous smoking is.”
The New Zealand government is preparing for possible legal challenges after tobacco firms, who argue the changes will hit profits and encourage counterfeit products, took a case all the way to Australia’s highest court last year – before being defeated.
Meanwhile, some tobacco-producing countries have now presented their complaints to the World Trade Organisation.
New Zealand will wait to see how these cases pan out before introducing the legislation formally, but Ms Turia said she wants to see the legislation in place before the end of this year.
Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UKs executive director of policy, said it was “great news” that New Zealand is set to go ahead with standardised packaging.
“It means that their young people will be protected from the branding that makes some cigarettes cool, macho or elegant.”
“The government consultation on introducing standard packs in this country closed six months ago. Since then, 80,000 children have started smoking but we are still waiting for the Government’s decision. We hope to hear very soon that that they will follow the lead of Australia and New Zealand and introduce plain, standard packs,” she added.
Copyright Press Association 2013