Trial plain packaging

Stuff reports:

for tobacco is no “slam dunk,” Prime Minister John Key says.

The Health Ministry today released an assessment on the impact of a plan to strip all branding off the packaging of tobacco products.

Officials backed the plan, saying it would reduce the likelihood of consumers being misled about the harmfulness of tobacco and increase the effectiveness of existing health warnings. It would also bring New Zealand into line with a plain packaging policy in Australia due to take effect in October.

But the paper warned of a ”reasonably high risk” of legal action that could cost millions of dollars in legal costs alone.

Australia has already been challenged by three countries through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and by tobacco companies at the High Court for its plain packaging policy. The objections are over the alleged violation of international trade rules and the loss of value in trademarks.

Officials said New Zealand would face legal costs of $3m to $6m for “international investment arbitration” and a further $1.5m to $2m to defend a WTO case.

Key today said the Government felt it was “likely” to be able to legally introduce plain packaging but it was “not absolutely clear cut”.

‘‘There are lots of things we need to consider – I wouldn’t say it’s a slam dunk by any chance that plain packaging will take place but nor would I rule it out. It really is, genuinely, a true consultation period,” Key said.

I think we should take a science based approach to this issue, and do a trial – perhaps in the South Island. The research I have seen to date merely states that some young people say they find the packaging attractive. That is very different to concluding that fewer people would smoke with plain packaging. I’m all for reducing the number of people who start smoking, but that doesn’t mean one should support every measure proposed. The key things to ask are “Will it work?” and “What are the negative consequences of the measure?”.

No country in the world has plain packaging, so we do not know if it will work. Now, I accept the argument that you don’t know if it will work until someone does try it. This means we could wait for the results from Australia. The problem is that with overall smoking rates on the decline anyway, it will still be hard to tell if any decline was due to the plain packaging.

Hence why we should trial it in say the South Island. Have a three year trial, and at the end of each year survey the smoking rates in both North and South Island and see if there has been any significant variation in the rate of change. If the South Island rate has declined significantly more, then you would be on safe grounds to make the trial permanent, and extend it to the North Island. If it has not, then the trial ends.

Also kudos to David Shearer for being sensible on this issue, as also reported by Stuff:

Prime Minister John Key has been labelled a ”wimp” for refusing to commit to plain packaging of tobacco.

But the taunt, from Labour MP Clare Curran, is not backed by her leader David Shearer who said Key’s cautious approach was ”actually a responsible thing to do”.

A decision to implement or not to implement will be based on inadequate information. That’s why a trial is the sensible way forward. It will allow the benefits, if any, to be quantified.

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