Putting cigarettes and tobacco in plain packages will have no health benefits, a health select committee has heard.

Instead it would remove tobacco companies’ intellectual property rights and breach New Zealand’s international trade obligations, tobacco industry representatives said.

But community and charity groups said the Smoke free Environments (Tobacco Plain Packaging) Amendment Bill was a necessary restriction to continue the reduction of tobacco consumption in New Zealand and prevent young people taking up smoking.

Speaking at the select committee hearing in Auckland today, representatives for British American Tobacco (BAT), which controls more than two thirds of the New Zealand tobacco market, said plain packaging restricted the company’s right to differentiate its products and compete with other brands and would not achieve health objectives.

“We don’t have any of the normal measures to compete that other industries have,” BAT general manager, Steve Rush said.

“What remains is branding, our intellectual property. Packaging is about product identification not product promotion.”

The legislation would also set a dangerous precedent for the other industries, like alcohol and soft drinks, said Rush.

Since Australia introduced plain packaging in 2012, five World Trade Organisation challenges had been made by tobacco producing countries.

The introduction of plain packaging in New Zealand would result in similar international trade challenges, BAT said.

Plain packaging would also create a black market and encourage legal but unregulated, untaxed home grown tobacco, where individuals could grow up 15 kilograms of tobacco for personal consumption.

“The homegrown market has grown in Australia,” Rush said.

“The black market is a matter of economics.”

And the legislation will not achieve the desired health objectives, as it had had little effect in the 12 months since its introduction in Australia.

“The reasons young people start smoking are the behaviours they see in the home, and access to cigarettes,” Rush said.

“They do not start smoking because of packaging.”

However, when asked whether the tobacco industry had supported legislation on smoke free workplaces, smoke free restaurants, and the ban on tobacco advertising, Rush admitted he had not.

Speaking for the bill, ASH, a charity dedicated to eliminating the death and disease caused by tobacco, strongly supported the legislation in the interest of the health of New Zealand children and future generations.

It said the restrictions on the tobacco companies were a necessary control on the industry.

“Tobacco industries are still able to use their trademark and brand name,” ASH director Stephanie Erick said.

“The bill will only restrict their ability to advertise to young children and other priority populations.

“The bill is evidence based, proportionate and necessary.”

Other pro plain packaging submitters said that from a young age children could identify with brands and the colours of cigarette packs.

Presenting for the Te Ara Ha Ora, the National Maori Tobacco Control Leadership Service, Danya Gardiner spoke of her 7 year old grandchild who knew which brands her mother and grandparents smoked.

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