Parliament will begin its debate on plain packaging for tobacco early next year, Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia has confirmed.
Mrs Turia said this morning that she expected the Smoke-Free Environments (Tobacco Products and Packaging) Amendment Bill to be introduced to the House in the New Year.
The hard-hitting law change would require cigarettes and tobacco to be sold in standardised packets with large health warnings.
In a statement, the minister said that removing tobacco company colours, logos and other marketing designed to make tobacco products glamorous was an important step in reducing the uptake of smoking.
:Tobacco is a deadly product that kills 5000 New Zealanders every year and is one of the leading causes of life-threatening illnesses such as heart and lung disease and cancer.
"Plain packaging, together with bigger health warnings, will send a clear message that tobacco causes serious illness and death."
New Zealand would be the second country in the world to approve plain packets, after Australia. The United Kingdom and Ireland were also considering a law change.
Australia was facing dual legal challenges from tobacco companies and tobacco-producing countries after introducing olive-green, standardised packs in December.
New Zealand was also likely to face legal challenges if it followed Australia's lead, and officials have estimated the cost of a legal dispute as between $2 million to $6 million, not including compensation if a case was lost.
Mrs Turia said New Zealand was keeping a close eye on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenges against Australia by tobacco-producing countries Ukraine, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Indonesia.
She was confident that a plain packaging regime would be in line with New Zealand's WTO obligations: "That is why we are pushing forward to take the legislation through the Parliamentary processes without delay."
Some have expressed concern that the New Zealand's inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would give companies a direct pathway to sue Government, but the legislation was likely to be passed before the TPP was signed off.