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Silence from ministry on plain packaging submissions

A month after consultation on its plain packaging regime for cigarettes closed, the Ministry of Health will not say how many submissions it received.

Georgina Bond
Mon, 05 Nov 2012

A month after consultation on its plain packaging regime for cigarettes closed, the Ministry of Health will not say how many submissions it received.

The government has agreed in principle to introduce plain packaging laws for tobacco products, subject to the outcome of a consultation process.

Yet the October 5 deadline for submissions passed unannounced, suggesting the number received in opposition could be huge.

NBR ONLINE asked the ministry about the numbers, but was told the volume would not be revealed until after the government has reached decision – expected by the end of the year.

Senior media adviser Anna Chalmers pointed out clause 6.1 in the proposal, which says:

“Once the consultation period has closed, officials from several government departments, including the Ministry of Health, Treasury, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the new Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, will consider the results of the consultation and develop advice for the Government.

“After the Government announces its decisions, a report summarising the submissions will be placed on the Ministry of Health website."

Silence from the Ministry of Health is unusual.

Common practice to mark the close of a submission period with an official statement was demonstrated in the just-closed submission process on proposed changes to vehicle licensing systems.

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges last week thanked the public and the transport sector for their “excellent response” to the government.

“Approximately 4200 submissions were made during the six-week public consultation period, which ended yesterday," he said in a Thursday statement.

“A summary of submissions will be publicly released in the coming weeks. Decisions on a proposed way forward are due by the end of the year,” Mr RIdges said.

NBR ONLINE understands submissions to MoH on plain packaging legislation well exceeded 10,000.

This includes more than 7500 from the public and more than 4000 from retailers.

The government is understood to be considering the approach taken in Australia, which has approved a plain packaging law requiring tobacco to be sold in plain, olive-coloured packets with the brand name in small, uniform font next to graphic images of diseased body parts.

Opposed to the proposal

Business groups such as Business NZ, representing more than 50,000 businesses, and the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council submitted in opposition to the proposal – voicing concern about the impact on New Zealand’s trade relationships.

Submissions in opposition were also lodged by the International Chamber of Commerce and foreign governments such as Indonesia – raising concern that plans to follow Australia on plain packaging rules would harm New Zealand’s important international trade obligations, which value the protection of intellectual property.

A submission from the Texas-based Institute for Policy Innovation warned that plain packaging regulation violated World Trade Organisation rules and the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, to which New Zealand is a signatory.

Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich also spelled out some of the risks of trademark removal in a recent newsletter article on grocery packaging.

“Opinions on this are divided, but one body of thought says that if New Zealand were to introduce plain packaging then manufacturers would have to cease using their trademarks and that would represent a failure to provide adequate protection for those assets,” Ms Rich says.

“That could make us in breach of the trade agreements and expose us to dispute proceedings at the World Trade Organisation. The resulting damage to our reputation as a good, reliable trading partner would be huge and the impact on our export income incalculable.

“I sometimes wonder if any of this occurs to public health activists who blindly call for plain packaging as if it’s some sort of magic wand that will solve all our ills.”

Georgina Bond
Mon, 05 Nov 2012
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Silence from ministry on plain packaging submissions