Why would you not wait to find out it is legal?

The Herald reports:

The Government is being lobbied to bring the tobacco plain-packaging bill back to Parliament for a final vote, now the policy has been found to work “almost like a vaccine against tobacco” in Australia.

The health select committee last year supported the bill but the Government has delayed bringing it back to the House pending the outcome of the challenges against the Australian law by the tobacco industry.

But National support partner the Maori Party and lobby group Action on Smoking on Health (Ash) now say the decline in smoking seen in Australia since its “standardised” packaging law came into force in 2013 means New Zealand can dally no longer.

And public health expert Robert Beaglehole, a University of Auckland emeritus professor, says in New Zealand “must be passed with urgency”.

“The Australian evidence shows standardised packaging of cigarettes has had an immense impact on smoking and has worked almost like a vaccine against tobacco use in children and young people.”

Umm, the evidence is far from conclusive. Some data has said a decrease, other data an increase.

Worse of all, the plain packaging came in at the same time as tax increases, so one can’t know what the impact of the measure is.

As I have said many times, the best way to resolve the debate would be to have a geographical trial, where you could compare the change in regions with plain packaging against the change in regions without.

Canberra is defending its law in two cases: before World Trade Organisation adjudicators in a case brought by tobacco-producing countries including the Dominican Republic, and at a United Nations commission’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in a case linked to Hong Kong and tobacco firm Philip Morris Asia.

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell rejected the Government’s waiting on the legal challenges. “Waiting for the World Trade Organisation decision means more people die or are sick from smoking-related illnesses.

Smoking rates are, thankfully, already declining in NZ. Waiting to find out if plain packaging is illegal under WTO agreements we have signed up to, is very sensible. Why would we implement a law which a few months later may be ruled illegal?

The firm claimed plain packs had “seen a 32 per cent jump” in Australian teen smoking, from 3.8 per cent in 2010 to 5 in 2013, but the Age reported a Government statistician saying it was not possible to say there had been an increase as the sample size was too small and the change was not statistically significant.

As I said the evidence is contradictory at this stage. It would be good to have robust data that measures solely the impact of plain packaging.

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