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New Zealand is clamping down on smoking, making retailers hide packs below the counter

19 February 2013

Tobacco companies will be forced to remove their logos from cigarette packs in New Zealand – when a challenge to a similar move in Australia is resolved.

The packaging law “will remove the last remaining vestige of glamour from these deadly products”, associate minister of health Tariana Turia said, announcing the plan.

New Zealand already has strict laws on smoking, making retailers hide packs below the counter, while cigarette taxes have been increased.

The new legislation would be similar to an Australian law that took effect in December and replaced logos on packs with graphic warnings including cancer-riddled mouths. The proposed law could be introduced in parliament later this year to take effect when the legal case over Australia’s move ends – next year at the earliest.

Tobacco companies lost a legal challenge in Australia’s highest court last year, but the World Trade Organisation has agreed to hear a complaint about it from several tobacco-growing countries led by the Ukraine.

The Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Indonesia argued that governments should pursue health policies “without unnecessarily restricting international trade and without nullifying intellectual property rights”.

New Zealand, Norway and Uruguay have lined up behind Australia in the WTO case. Uruguay told the trade body it could not remain silent about “the most serious pandemic confronting humanity”.

Ms Turia said the New Zealand government wants to minimise its legal exposure by waiting until the outcome of the Australian challenge. Even so, she said, the government is planning to set aside up to six million New Zealand dollars (£3.3 million) to defend against possible lawsuits from the “very litigious” tobacco companies.

Steve Rush, the New Zealand general manager of British American Tobacco, said that the company is exploring its legal options. “We expect to see numerous repercussions as a result of the government ignoring several international agreements as well as setting a dangerous precedent for other industries,” he said.

New Zealand has set itself a target of eliminating smoking altogether by 2025. Ms Turia said the government would consider introducing further measures, such as banning smoking in cars and public places and further increasing taxes.

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