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'We will protect our people' - Turia on tobacco

Monday 23 Jul 2012 2:52 p.m.

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By Lloyd Burr

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia is welcoming the challenge from tobacco giants who are fighting the Government’s plain packaging proposal.

The Government wants branding removed from all tobacco products and replaced with plain wording as part of plans for a smoke-free New Zealand by 2025.

Today, a public consultation process was launched to get feedback on the proposal, which will run for three months.

It coincides with the first day of a new law banning tobacco displays in dairies and convenience stores.

Ms Turia says hiding cigarettes away is a good first step but the best deterrent is to remove the “glorious” packaging that attracts people to buy the products.

These plans have infuriated tobacco companies who say it breaches trade agreements, will start a black market and will see the Government taken to court.

British American Tobacco, despite releasing a statement welcoming the consultation, say they strongly oppose the proposal and say it will back-fire on the Government.

Tobacco company Phillip Morris has also set up a website which encourages its consumers to oppose the plain packaging idea.

Ms Turia says these strong reactions prove the plans will work and is not worried about threats that they breach trade agreements with other countries.

“In all of our trade and multi-lateral agreements, we already have protection for public health. It is critically important we retain our sovereignty and our ability to make laws for this country,” she says.

“We are not breaching agreements. The role of Government is to protect its people.”

She says she is not interested in what Phillip Morris has to say and their attempt to get their consumers to protest the Government is driven by profit.

“They don’t care about people’s lives and that is what people need to understand.

“Normally when you have a product that has a negative impact on the health and well being of people’s lives, usually the Government intervenes.”

But the planned intervention will not see a decrease in tobacco sales, according to a Wellington dairy owner.

Mahess Patel, who has owned a dairy on Cuba St for eight years, says brand loyalty will exist even if the labels are taken away.

“It might make a little bit of a difference but people know the brand they are after so they will come in and buy it.

He says the only measure by Government that reduces sales is an increase in tax.

One of his customers, Lance Collins, agrees with him.

“I would love people to stop smoking, I think it’s a disgusting habit but 90 percent of smokers will carry on even with the brands covered or with no branding on the packet,” he says.

Ms Turia says the main targets of plain packaging are not existing smokers but young people who are lured to the branding and start smoking.

But she isn’t ruling out further tax increases on top of the existing budgeted increase of 40 percent by 2016.

She says she would like to see it at 60 percent by then instead.

Watch the video for Patrick Gower’s full interview with Ms Turia.

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