Plain cigarette packs could reduce Maori health gap, committee told

By Brendan Manning

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

The health gap between Maori and non-Maori will hopefully reduce when all tobacco products have plain packaging, according to a submission to a parliamentary committee today.

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, said Zoe Martin-Hawke from Maori tobacco control leadership group Te Ara Ha Ora.

Ms Martin-Hawke's was one of several submissions both for and against the Smoke-free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill, heard before the Health Select Committee in Auckland today.

Tobacco use among Maori was one of the key health inequalities between Maori and non-Maori, Ms Martin-Hawke said.

"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."

Tala Pasifika - the National Pacific Tobacco Control Service - was also in favour of 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, Tala Pasifika programme manager Edward Cowley told the committee.

Plain packaging decreased that attractiveness, and it would give Pasifika children one less reason to start, he said.

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.

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.

Plain packaging would also create a dangerous precedent which could lead to plain packing for alcohol and soft drinks, Mr Rush said.

New Zealand Association of Convenience Stores chairman Roger Bull said in Australia, the policy had been "anything but successful" with no impact on the quantity of tobacco sold.

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 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."

Action on Smoking and Health New Zealand director Stephanie Erick said 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.

The plain packaging bill would require all tobacco to be sold in bland packets with standardised font and colour, and covered by large health warnings.

It 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.

The bill passed its first reading in February.

- NZ Herald

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