Key on plain packaging

Stuff reports:

A law that would force tobacco companies to wrap their cigarettes in could be in action by the end of the year. 

Prime Minister John Key has confirmed a bill, on pause partway through the parliamentary process, would be resumed and he expected it to become law “sooner as opposed to later”. 

His comments come off the back of a recent success had by the Australian Government, who have been locked in legal action over its attempts to introduce a plain packaging law. 

Late last year, US tobacco company Philip Morris failed in a legal challenge against the law – brought about under a bilateral free trade agreement Australia has with Hong Kong. 

The New Zealand Government was watching the action, and held up its own bill – currently at the select committee stage – while it awaited the outcome of Australia’s court case. 

“It was waiting, and I think the view I initially took was given Australia was in the middle of this court case it probably didn’t make sense for us to embark on that, and then potentially face exactly the same costs for the taxpayer in defending another legal action.”

Australia has been facing two legal challenges – one under the Hong Kong free trade agreement (which was dismissed) and one under WTO rules which is with a WTO disputes panel. I would have thought you’d wait for both cases to be concluded.

As I have said many times, I would like to see plain packing trialed in a scientifically controlled experiment, so we can actually measure whether or not it is effective in reducing smoking rates. Only with a regional trial could we see if any change is due to plain packaging as opposed to other initiatives such as tax changes.

Plain packaging supporters should be fans of this. It would be absolutely solid proof of the effectiveness of plain packaging, which would probably lead to global take up of it. The fact they are all hostile to a regional trial makes me suspicious that they are unsure whether it will have any impact – but as it harms tobacco companies they support it.

I’d actually like to see regional trials for most public health initiatives. The regional use of fluoride, for example, has allowed us to see the difference in tooth decay cases in regions with and without fluoride added to the water supply.

The ability for different areas to have different local alcohol policies should allow us in a few years to measure if stopping supermarkets selling wine after 9 pm has any impact on alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse.

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