Plain packs get green light from TPP

The agreement in principle to implement the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact is likely to bring an unwelcome Christmas present for smokers in New Zealand – and possibly other countries.

The NZ government is expected to press ahead to introduce plain-packaging legislation for cigarettes, now that TPP has excluded tobacco companies from the Investors State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) provision that makes governments vulnerable to law suits from rich and powerful corporations.

Tobacco companies will now not be able to sue governments for introducing measures like plain packaging, which they not surprisingly see as a restraint of trade.

Labour deputy leader Annette King told the NZ Herald that the tobacco ‘carve-out’ meant Government should urgently pass legislation which would introduce plain packaging for tobacco. It had previously said it would wait on the outcome of court cases in Australia, where the Government is being sued by Philip Morris over its plain packaging regime.

“It should be no problem now,” Ms King said. “We can’t be sued so instead of waiting for Australia, we should be able to pass that bill before Christmas.” opposes plain packaging on the grounds that

  • it inhibits the choice of consumers to choose perfectly legitimate product and
  • it doesn’t work – in terms of acting as a deterrent to smoking

The experience in Australia has shown that removing branding from cogarette packs does not reduc consumption – only legitimate consumption. Illicit trade has burgeoned, while there has been a discernible trade-down in legitimate packs to cheaper ‘brands’. So smokers save save a few cents per pack, but they don’t smoke fewer sticks and risk even more harmful product.

As the Daily Telegraph reported earlier this year, “there has been a sharp increase in contraband tobacco in Australia since plain packaging was introduced. It is worth reflecting on the changing nature of Australia’s black market [estimated to be costing more than AUD1.3 billion per year (source: Oxford Economics, 2014)] …

Immediately following Australia’s introduction of plain pack regulations, there was “a significant rise in Non-Domestic Illicit in 2013, which accounted for 7.9% of Total Consumption or 1.9 billion cigarettes (an increase of 1.2 billion cigarettes in comparison to 2012) (source: Oxford Economics, 2014).

When the Australian law came into effect, many people … expected counterfeiters to mass produce ‘plain’ cigarette packs. A few did, but the main trend was towards completely fake brands with all-singing, all-dancing pack designs.”

These brands have never existed as legitimate products in Australia. One of them, known as ‘Manchester’, “came from nowhere to gain a 1.5 percent market share despite being an obvious fake. It seems that many smokers dislike the plain packs, as was the intention, and are prepared to turn to the black market for a more retro look. Conventional packs have become status symbols.”

Cigarettes remain legal and a choice that adults make. It’s impossible to believe in this day and age that anyone remains unaware of the risks associated with smoking. Plain packaging, according to the Daily Telegraph, is a result of public health campaigners ignoring facts and, instead, “using something called ‘the scream test’ as their golden rule.

“In the words of one anti-smoking activist, this means that ‘If the tobacco industry complains loudly and long and lobbies all the politicians it can find then you know that you are winning. You know that whatever it is the anti-tobacco campaigners or governments have done is going to reduce sales of tobacco.’

“The scream test offers a glimpse into the mind of the modern zealot and suggests that the real target is not cancer, but profit-making businesses.”

Plain packaging does not work and is a wasteful, spiteful and digressive tactic to be used by hysterical anti-smoking activists who choose to ignore the facts. The US-dominated TPP (official motto: “Leveling the playing field for American workers & American businesses”), with this and all its other dodgy likely outcomes, is already proving to be anti-consumer.

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