New Zealand on Tuesday announced it will push ahead with plans to force tobacco companies to remove their logos from cigarette packs and enhance graphic health warnings.
Under draft regulations, cigarettes would be required to be sold in packs with plain background colors and with gruesome-looking images covering at least 75 percent of the front of each pack.
The proposal has widespread support among lawmakers and comes just days after the government announced a tax measure that will hike the price of a pack of cigarettes to about 30 New Zealand dollars (US$20), one of the highest in the world.
The plain packaging law is expected to be passed this year with the changes enforced by early next year. Dozens of countries and territories around the world have adopted similar measures after Australia became the trailblazer in 2012.
New Zealand first announced plans for plain packaging rules in 2013 but the legislation stalled. Prime Minister John Key said lawmakers held back as they awaited the outcome of lawsuits launched by tobacco companies in Australia.
Those companies argued the law violated intellectual property rights and devalued their trademarks, but Australia's highest court upheld the law.
Tobacco giant Philip Morris suffered its latest legal setback in December when a Singapore court determined it had no jurisdiction to hear a case brought by Philip Morris Asia Ltd.
"The world's moved on, there have been quite a number of countries that have moved towards plain packaging," said Key. "And the advice I've been getting from my officials is that it's safer for us to proceed unilaterally."
The New Zealand branch of British American Tobacco said Australia's law had been a failure, and that New Zealand should not move forward until decisions are made on legal challenges to plain packaging with the World Trade Organization.
"We remain strongly opposed to the plain packaging proposal in New Zealand," said Saul Derber, head of legal and external affairs, in a statement.
Associate Health Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga said the design and appearance of cigarette packs remains a powerful marketing tool for companies, and that smoking-related illnesses kill a dozen New Zealanders every day.
New Zealand has set an ambitious goal of eliminating smoking by 2025.
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