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New Zealand: Bill Requiring Standardized Packaging of Tobacco Products Passed

(Sept. 20, 2016) On September 8, 2016, the New Zealand Parliament enacted the Smoke-Free Environments (Tobacco Standardised Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 with a vote of 108 in favor and 13 against.  (Press Release, Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, Standardised Packaging Bill Passed (Sept. 8, 2016); Smoke-Free Environments (Tobacco Standardised Packaging) Amendment Act 2016 (Amendment Act), New Zealand Legislation website.) The Amendment Act enables regulations to be put in place that will require cigarettes and other tobacco products to be packaged in a standardized way.  (Amendment Act, s 10, inserting new s 31A into the Smoke-Free Environments Act 1990, New Zealand Legislation website.)  The “plain” packaging will be “brown/green” in color and there will be a requirement for enlarged health warnings.  No tobacco company marketing imagery will be allowed.  (Press Release, supra.)

The relevant regulations are currently being developed.  A public consultation process on the regulations closed at the end of July 2016.  (Id.; Kelly Buchanan, New Zealand: Draft Regulations on Plain Packaging of Cigarettes Released, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 2, 2016).)

Peseta Sam Lotu-liga, the Associate Minister of Health, stated, “[s]tandardised packaging, along with the existing suite of tobacco control measures and quit smoking services, is a logical next step towards the Smokefree 2025 goal.”  (Standardised Packaging Bill Passed, supra.)  The Smokefree 2025 goal was adopted by the New Zealand government in 2011 in response to a report published by a parliamentary committee.  The government “agreed with the goal of reducing smoking prevalence and tobacco availability to minimal levels, thereby making New Zealand essentially a smokefree nation by 2025.”  (Smokefree 2025, MINISTRY OF HEALTH (last updated July 21, 2015).)

The plain packaging bill was originally introduced in the Parliament in 2013, but it was delayed due to concerns about legal challenges to a similar Australian law that came into effect in December 2012.  Following the passage of the bill in New Zealand, it was reported that British American Tobacco “continues to reserve its position” on whether it will challenge the legislation, but had stated that it would comply with the new packaging requirements.  (Sophie Boot, Tobacco Firm Ponders Challenge as Plain Packaging Bill Passes, NZ HERALD (Sept. 10, 2016).)  When the draft regulations were released, the company stated “[i]t is naive to imagine that introducing plain packaging in New Zealand will not increase the black market and erode government revenue whilst having no impact on total tobacco consumption.”  (Id.)

The Australian legislation was upheld by the High Court of Australia and an arbitral tribunal refused to hear a claim brought by a tobacco company.  (Buchanan, supra.)  Proceedings initiated against Australia by four countries before the World Trade Organization’s Dispute Settlement Body are ongoing.  (WTO Disputes – Tobacco Plain Packaging, DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE (updated Sept. 2016).)