Ministers have rubbished a tobacco company-funded campaign against the plain packaging of cigarettes, saying it is a waste of money and a distraction from the harm that smoking causes.
British American Tobacco New Zealand yesterday launched a print, television and radio campaign costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in response to the Government's plan to strip all branding from cigarette packs to make them less attractive to smokers.
The company said laws similar to those introduced in Australia infringed on intellectual property rights, would create a larger black market, and would force tobacco companies to drop their prices in competition for customers. It has taken out full-page advertisements in newspapers which say: "If I create it, I should own it."
Health Minister Tony Ryall said BATNZ was "wasting its money" on the campaign.
He believed New Zealanders were turning against tobacco companies and their marketing strategies. "New Zealanders have moved on from being influenced in this way. There is a lot of support for what the Government is doing in tobacco."
The Ministry of Health has put out a consultation paper on plain packaging and expects to report back on the findings on October. The Government has agreed to support the policy change in principle.
BATNZ's general manager, Steve Rush, said plain packaging created a "disturbing precedent" for other industries, adding that the British Government was considering a similar proposal for alcohol.
He said New Zealand should not "blindly follow Australia's lead" with policy he said was unproven in helping to curb smoking.
Asked about BATNZ's allegation that there was no proof plain packaging would reduce harm from smoking, Mr Ryall said: "There is no evidence specifically, but there is plenty of evidence that packaging works. And if it didn't work, then why are they complaining?"
The expensive campaign foreshadows the likely legal battle between the Government and "big tobacco" if plain packaging is introduced.
The Australian Government is being sued by tobacco companies and tobacco-producing countries for its plain-packaging regime. Mr Ryall said if New Zealand faced similar legal challenges, the result would be "very one-way".
Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said New Zealand remained committed to plain packaging despite huge pressure from tobacco companies and the threat of legal challenges.
"We're interested in the health and well-being of families and we're here to support the families who lose 13 people a day here in New Zealand. That's a good enough reason to continue our campaign."