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June 29th, 2011:

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NZ backs Aussie in tobacco brand row

29 June 2011

The Government is throwing its support behind Australia in its fight against tobacco giant Philip Morris, as unbranded cigarette packets look likely to be introduced in New Zealand.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris Asia is threatening to sue the Australian Government over its plans to severely restrict advertising on cigarette packaging, with new laws set to be introduced by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

The laws would restrict tobacco industry logos and brand imagery, with only the product name in standardised text allowed on the packet. All packets would be green, a colour research has shown is unattractive to smokers.

Australia will be the first country to introduce the laws, and Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia said New Zealand was watching the situation closely to see how best to follow.

“We are very supportive of Australia’s initiative and it is our expectation that New Zealand will inevitably follow their lead and look to introduce the plain packaging of tobacco products.”

It was no surprise that tobacco companies could “see the writing on the wall”, and were feeling threatened, she said.

“Tobacco companies are very wealthy – they make a lot of money from peddling their dangerous, deathly, addictive product – and they clearly have no problem instigating legal challenges even if they have little chance of success.”

Philip Morris has filed legal action against Australia under that country’s bilateral trade agreement with Hong Kong, which means the Government has to protect Hong Kong investments in Australia.

Mrs Turia said officials would look at New Zealand trade agreements when drafting plain-packaging laws, to see how to counter legal challenges from the tobacco industry.

“Like Australia, we are probably in a position where the public health arguments for tobacco control outweigh the tobacco company interests, but … we are also mindful of doing things in a way that is not going to unnecessarily cut across our trade interests.”

But Green Party MP Russel Norman called for the removal of “perverse” investor rights given to foreign companies in free trade agreements, saying they would allow Philip Morris to sue New Zealand – possibly for billions of dollars. “That means taxpayers will be funding big tobacco’s profits. That’s not free trade, that’s global extortion.”

A report on possible alignment with Australia’s packaging laws is set to be reviewed by Cabinet.

The Government has already committed to making the country smokefree by 2025.

Tobacco lawsuit could impact enforcement

29 June 2011

A newly launched $1.5-billion lawsuit against contraband tobacco manufacturers across Canada could change the way the RCMP attempts to snuff out the trade of illegal cigarettes.

Cpl. Robert Fullerton of New Brunswick’s RCMP customs and excise unit says a lawsuit by Canada’s largest tobacco company Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. may shift greater police focus to eliminating illegal smokes at the source.

“It might change the way we do enforcement,” Fullerton said. “Right now we seem to be more concentrated on the end users than the manufactures.

“Maybe this is going to see the government force us to target the manufacturing more.”

Imperial Tobacco launched the lawsuit this month against what it labeled as contraband tobacco manufacturers and retailers on First Nations reserves.

Imperial also wants to bring smaller producers – whether operating legally or not – in as third parties to lawsuits it faces from the New Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia governments.

The provinces are suing tobacco giants, including Imperial Tobacco, for health-care costs from tobacco-related illnesses.

The result of the lawsuits could focus the public eye on the large existence of illegal tobacco in the country, which big tobacco maintains is illegal competition to a regulated industry.

The RCMP has special units to deal with contraband tobacco and organized crime surrounding the trade. In 2010, the RCMP seized approximately 782,000 cartons and bags of illegal cigarettes nationwide.”It’s going to be very interesting to see how the government reacts,” Fullerton said.

Imperial was also critical of New Brunswick’s move in March to increase the tobacco tax in the province, saying the government had “set out the province’s welcome mat for organized crime to expand its thriving contraband business in the east.”

The Alward government’s first provincial budget, released in March, increased the tobacco tax by 45 per cent – a move that exceeds the request of the Canadian Cancer Society. The jump equates to an increase of 5.25 cents per cigarette, $1.31 per pack, $10.50 per carton and an extra $25 million in new government revenue.

Fullerton, who is based in Edmundston, said that there has yet to be an influx in illegal cigarette seizures since the tax increase, despite expectations that there in fact could be. New Brunswick RCMP spokesman Cpl. Yann Audoux said the amount of illegal tobacco seized in the last three months was not available yesterday.

More than 350,000 illegal cigarettes were seized at two traffic stops on the Trans Canada Highway in the Edmundston area on the same day last month.

In both cases, the cigarettes and the vehicles used to transport them were seized and will be forfeited.

In April, police also seized 124 cartons of illegal cigarettes at a home in Tracadie-Sheila.

Last week, the RCMP customs and excise section executed a search warrant at a residence near Sussex.

During the search, officers seized approximately 9,800 illegal cigarettes.

It also executed a search warrant at a residence in Albert Mines where more than 100 cartons of illegal cigarettes were seized.