Kids drawn to brightly-coloured cigarette packs, Committee told

The tobacco industry has ramped up efforts to persuade New Zealand against plain packaging. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The tobacco industry has ramped up efforts to persuade New Zealand against plain packaging. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Pacific people respond to colour and vibrancy and as a result, Pasifika children are automatically drawn to the bright colours of branded cigarette packets, a Health Select Committee has heard today.

Submissions both for and against Tariana Turia's Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill were heard before the committee in Auckland today.

Tala Pasifika programme manager Edward Cowley told the committee they fully supported the bill. Pacific people responded to colour and vibrancy, and when Pasifika children saw the bright colours of cigarette packets, they were drawn to them, he said.

Plain packaging decreased that attractiveness, and while it would not eradicate smoking completely, it would give Pasifika children one less reason to start, Mr Cowley said.

New Zealand's Pacific Island neighbours looked us for guidance, he said, and progressing the bill would be leading by example.

The plain packaging bill would the last avenue of marketing for manufacturers by requiring all tobacco to be sold in bland packets with standardised font and colour, and covered by large health warnings.

When the bill passed its first reading in February, Mrs Turia said it took away the last means of promoting tobacco as a desirable product.

In 1990, extensive restrictions were placed on the traditional forms of advertising for cigarettes, she said.

"Quarter of a century later, tobacco companies have deliberately used packaging design and appearance to make their products appear more desirable and to promote their use.''

The bill would make it an offence to make or sell tobacco in branded packets, with a maximum fine of $600,000 for a company caught breaching the rules.

New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores chairman Roger Bull said the bill had the potential to create both negative and unintended consequences for retailers.

In Australia, the policy had been "anything but successful'' with no impact on the quantity of tobacco sold, he said.

In fact, tobacco sales had increased by 5.9 per cent in the year following the introduction of plain packaging, Mr Bull said.

The association represents more than 750 convenience stores throughout New Zealand, and plain packaging would create frustrations for both consumers and retailers in trying to find the desired tobacco product, Mr Bull said.

Tobacco sales represented around 40 per cent of retailers' total business sales, he said.

"We are concerned that this proposal will add considerable cost to small retailers in addition to the burden imposed by the retail display ban in 2012.''

While some retailers who were not members of the association had recently taken an ethical standpoint by stripping tobacco products from their shelves, it was not mandatory for association members to sell tobacco products, Mr Bull said.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) New Zealand director Stephanie Erick said they strongly supported the bill in the interest of the health of future generations.

Plain packaging would make tobacco less attractive and less addictive and was an important step to achieve the Government's goal of a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, she said.

The bill was "evidence based, proportionate and necessary,'' and ASH urged the committee to proceed it without delay, Ms Erick said.

Maori tobacco control leadership group Te Ara Ha Ora spokeswoman Zoe Martin-Hawke said tobacco use among Maori was one of the key health inequalities between Maori and non-Maori.

Maori smoking rates were five times that of non-Maori and the loss of whanau members prematurely from tobacco-related illness was a loss to Maoridom, she said.

"It is for this reason that Te Ara Ha Ora fully supports the plain packaging bill.

"The New Zealand Government should be applauded for already restricting most tobacco advertising, however there is still one place left for industry to advertise and that is on tobacco packaging.''

British American Tobacco general manager Steve Rush said the company acknowledged tobacco was harmful and supported trade restraints, however plain packaging would not work.

The bill wouldn't reduce smoking rates, but would remove intellectual property rights and breach several World Trade Organisation agreements, he said.

"If New Zealand ignores international trade agreements, and does not respect international property rights, it will not be able to defend New Zealand's own exports against other misconceived policies overseas.''

The Government had a number of alternatives to plain packaging, such as cracking down on home-grown tobacco, which was untaxed and carried no warnings, Mr Rush said.

Committee member Ian Lees-Galloway asked Mr Rush whether the company had supported previous anti-tobacco legislation such as a ban on tobacco advertising, smoke-free workplaces and a ban on smoking in bars. Mr Rush conceded it hadn't.

Plain packaging was an "extreme measure'' which took away a legal industry's right to differentiate their product, Mr Rush said.

It would also create a dangerous precedent which could lead to plain packing for alcohol and soft drinks.

"It has a significant impact on the industry and other trademark owners. It has a questionable impact on international trade and given that the [impact of plain packaging is] extremely low, we believe that this is an unnecessary, restrictive step to take when other measures can be taken.''

- NZ Herald

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