Plain Packaging in New Zealand

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Consultation

On 23rd July 2012, the Ministry of health in New Zealand announced that:

‘the Government has agreed in principle to introduce a plain packaging regime for tobacco, subject to the outcome of a consultation process.’[1]

The consultation process in New Zealand ran between the 23rd July 2012 and the 5th of October 2012.[1]

Tobacco Industry Campaign Against Plain Packaging

Image 1: BATNZ: AgreeDisagree homepage

On August 22nd 2012, British American Tobacco New Zealand (BATNZ) launched a multi-media campaign against the introduction of plain packaging in New Zealand.(Image 1)[2] In 2011, BATNZ owned 72% of the cigarette market share in New Zealand.[3]

BATNZ's launch of the ‘Agree Disagree’ campaign, which coincided with the New Zealand public consultation on plain packaging, ran with the slogan, “We agree that tobacco is harmful. We disagree that plain packaging will work.”[4] The campaign has its own dedicated website, www.agreediagree.co.nz, which includes BATNZ’s arguments promoted using three forms of media advertising: television, radio and print. The webiste also has a live twitter feed citing messages of support for the campaign. According to the NZ Herald full page sized print ads of the images in the gallery below have appeared in New Zealand newspapers.[5]


Using their campaign, BATNZ have presented five main arguments promoted through television, radio and print advertisements. Three of the arguments have been used in other countries:

Intellectual property

At the time of its launch the AgreeDisagree campaign was based on the argument that plain packs violate intellectual property, which ‘would deprive us of the right to use our brands’. BATNZ repeat the same rhetoric used previously in Australia and the UK. Namely, that there is no evidence that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates, that plain packaging would expose the Government to legal challenges, illicit trade would increase resulting in increased criminal activity and that price competition would prevail driving up smoking prevalence. BATNZ also argued that other countries such as Canada have considered the measure but decided against it (this decision was made in 1995 as a result of litigation brought by the industry) and that plain packaging, once introduced, would be unlikely to stop with tobacco.

Later the campaign was expanded to include the other four arguments presented below.

Personal Responsibility

BATNZ empahsised that people should be allowed to take responsibility for their own actions and that campaigners should leave certain issues alone. This is a long-standing industry argument related to smokers' rights.

What’s next?

BATNZ suggested that if plain packaging is implemented then alcohol might be next. There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.


Two of the arguments promoted by BATNZ were specifically designed to appeal to the average New Zealander:

International Trade

BATNZ suggested that the New Zealand wine industry could suffer as a result of restricting the promotion of international cigarette brands. The BATNZ international trade television ad suggests that other countries could retaliate by putting their wine in plain packaging.

The ad states “If we don’t respect their brands why should they respect ours.” However, this is misleading as there is currently no suggestion that plain packaging will be introduced for alcohol. This argument is similar to the ‘What’s next?’ argument but it is appealing to New Zealanders directly as the wine industry is very large. New Zealand export wine to Australia, the UK, the USA, Canada and Asia and their alcohol industry employs more than 16,500 full-time jobs in the country.[6]

Australian Law

BATNZ argued that New Zealand ought not to merely copy Australia by implementing plain packaging legislation. This argument appears to be tapping into a long standing Trans-Tasman Rivalry[7] between Australia and New Zealand.

BATNZ’s general manager Steve Rush reportedly commented that New Zealand should not blindly follow the Australian Government.[8]

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Public Health Counter’s Tobacco Industry Arguments

To view evidence that counters these industry lead arguments see Countering Industry Arguments against Plain Packaging

Response to BATNZ’s anti-plain packaging campaign

When asked, BATNZ declined to reveal their budget for their AgreeDisagree campaign.[8] However, according to the Herald Sun Newspaper, general manager Rush stated that BAT would probably be spending “hundreds of thousands” on the campaign.[9]

New Zealand ministers said that BATNZ’s campaign was a waste of money and a distraction from the harm that smoking causes.[5] Similarly New Zealand’s health minister, Tony Ryall, said that the public were turning against the tobacco industry; “New Zealanders have moved on from being influenced in this way. There is a lot of support for what the Government is doing in tobacco.”[5] The associate health minister Tariana Turia and the director of New Zealand’s Action on Smoking and Health, Ben Youdan have said that the existence of industry anti-plain packaging campaigns provides evidence that the industry are worried that plain packaging will work.

“If this isn’t going to work, as they claim, why are they investing so much money to try to stop it? They’re on about profit, we’re on about saving lives.” (Turia)[10]
“They’re very worried about plain packaging, they’re worried it’s going to affect their bottom line.”(Youdan)[10]


According to a blog by Professor Alistair Woodward, head of the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland, New Zealanders are mistrustful of the tobacco industry; however, ministers are nevertheless worried about implementing plain packaging legislation because of international reaction and threats of litigation.[11] Threat of litigation is part of a well-documented Legal Strategy of the tobacco industry.

Official Complaints

As of the 25th October 2012, the Health Ministry in NZ had received 14 complaints against BAT's Agree/Disagree campaign opposing plain packaging.[12] According to an article in the Business Day, a New Zealand current events publication, those complaining argued that the campaign breached the tobacco advertising ban in NZ.

However, the Health Ministry's chief legal advisor, Phil Knipe, stated that there were "insufficient grounds to support enforcement action [i.e. grounds to remove the campaign] at this time." According to the Business Day article, the Advertising Standards Authority also received similar complaints as well as further complaints that BAT were presenting their opinions as facts. The Authority passed on the former to the Health Ministry and dismissed the latter, ruling that BAT had separated fact from opinion.

Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Ministry of Health, Proposal to introduce plain packaging of tobacco products in New Zealand, 23 July 2012, accessed July 2012
  2. BATNZ, AgreeDisagree.co.nz, accessed August 2012
  3. BATNZ,media:Backgrounder_to_BAT.pdf‎
  4. BATNZ, BATNZ media release ‘We agree tobacco is harmful, we disagree plain packaging will work, 22 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Isaac Davison, Ministers say anti-plain packaging ads a waste of money, NZ Herald, 23 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  6. Media Resources New Zealand New Zealand wine industry, Accessed February 2013
  7. Cycling Queensland, Trans-Tasman rivalry to reignite this week at Oceania Championships, 26 November 2012, accessed February 2013
  8. 8.0 8.1 Dominque Schwartz, Tobacco giant rallies against NZ plain packaging, ABC News, 22 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  9. AAP, Tobacco firms battle plain packaging in NZ , Herald Sun, 22 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  10. 10.0 10.1 AAP, BAT packaging move proves govt deterrence, NZ Newswire, 23 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  11. Alistair Woodward, Big Tobacco on the warpath against plain packaging in New Zealand, The Conversation, 24 August 2012, accessed August 2012
  12. B. Heather, Complaints over tobacco 'public awareness campaign', Business Day, 25 October 2012, accessed November 2012