By 3 News online staff
Imperial Tobacco has admitted urging its employees to make submissions on the Government's proposal to put cigarettes plain packaging.
Sixteen workers for the international tobacco giant made submissions, asking the Ministry of Health not to reveal their names, Fairfax reports. They claim stripping cigarettes of their branding would not reduce smoking rates, and create a black market.
None of them backed plain packaging.
In a statement, Imperial Tobacco said "We have… kept employees informed of developments and encouraged them to make a submission during the consultation."
More than 300 submissions were released under the Official Information Act. Fairfax claims eight cigar companies made the exact same submission.
British American Tobacco New Zealand, Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris say they could launch legal action if the proposal goes ahead, claiming it breaks international trade rules.
Ukraine, Honduras and the Dominican Republic are challenging Australia, which introduced plain packaging last year, at the World Trade Organisation.
Imperial Tobacco said the Government's submission process was "paying lip service", but anti-smoking campaigners say the amount of opposition from the industry is a sign the plan will indeed reduce smoking rates.
"It's called a scream test," Action on Smoking and Health NZ spokesman Michael Colhoun told Fairfax.
"When the [tobacco] industry kicks up a fuss, it generally shows that it will be an effective measure in reducing smoking."
It has been estimated any change to the law could cost taxpayers $2 million to defend a WTO case and $6 million for a court case. The costs would skyrocket if the Government had to pay compensation.
The Government wants to make New Zealand smoke-free by 2025. In December 3 News revealed there are plans to ban smoking in cars with children and in parks and playgrounds this year, and from next year cigarettes could be removed from dairies and have their nicotine content lowered.
Movies which feature smoking could even be automatically rated R18.