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Letter | Switch to large pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs

The New Zealand government’s announcement that it will bring in legislation for plain cigarette packs is a welcome public health development. However, the fine print says that the government will wait to see what happens with Australia’s legal cases, so enactment of this legislation might be delayed.

The legal and arbitration processes surrounding Australia’s plain packs legislation may take years to be finalised. In one process (with Philip Morris), the first arbitration hearing has been moved to February 2014. There are also cases in which Ukraine, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic are using World Trade Organization dispute panel procedures, and which have only started the procedural stages.

In the meantime, New Zealand has a pictorial health warning on 30% of the front of packs, compared with 75% for Australia, Canada, and Brunei and 80% for Uruguay and Sri Lanka. Thailand will have 85%.

Governments that, unlike Australia, are timid about the litigation risks of plain packs could still adopt large front of pack warnings now. For New Zealand, this could be done by a change of regulations that would not require new legislation. If the six countries above can have large warnings (and Uruguay can refuse to bow to Philip Morris litigation about their warnings) why can’t others?

To view letter: Switch to large pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs

Citation:  Thomson, G., Wilson, N., Maubach N. (2013) Switch to large pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs (Letter) BMJ 2013;346:f2084