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New Zealand moves forward with plain packaging

Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia announced today plans to introduce plain packaging legislation, reports the New Zealand Herald

Turia said that legislation to require standardised packaging for tobacco products will not come into effect until challenges to Australia’s plain packaging legislation before the WTO are decided. She predicts that will take place about 18 months from now.

"We know that we've got trade obligations and we take them seriously ... but we are confident that plain packaging can be introduced consistently with those obligations", she said.

Australia’s plain packaging laws, the first in the world, came into effect on December 1 after surviving a constitutional challenge from JT International and British American Tobacco. The battle has shifted to the WTO, where Ukraine, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic argue that the law violates Australia’s obligations under international trade rules. Tobacco companies have also initiated arbitration, alleging that the law violates the Australia-Hong Kong Bilateral Investment Treaty.

Turia and Prime Minister John Key also expect legal challenges to the plan under New Zealand law, saying that defending the new legislation could cost up to NZ$6 million ($5.07 million). Likewise, British American Tobacco’s country general manager Steve Rush told the Herald that it does not rule out legal action, and it will “fully participate in the legislative process".

Corinne Blumsky of AJ Park told Managing IP that the legal framework in New Zealand is different from Australia’s, so tobacco companies will have to find different avenues to challenge the legislation.

"New Zealand does not have a supreme constitution like Australia," Blumsky explained. "The Attorney General will consult with Parliament on issues of validity and whether it violates other laws such as the Bill of Rights. But once it is passed, it will not be possible to challenge its validity on constitutional grounds."

New Zealand’s plain packaging regulations is expected to be similar to its neighbour’s. Australia requires all cigarettes to be sold with no logos, as well as standard colours, fonts, size, and positioning of all packaging elements, as well as graphic health warnings.

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