Axe tobacco, ban cigarette exports: health professor

By Hana Garrett-Walker of APNZ

Photo / Kenny Rodger
Photo / Kenny Rodger

New Zealand should be phasing out tobacco, and cigarette exports should be banned not increased, a public health professor says.

His comments come as news that Imperial Tobacco's Petone Factory is quadrupling its exports to Australia.

As part of a $45 million upgrade the Petone plant will be able to produce 8000 cigarettes a minute.

Most of Imperial's cigarettes for Australia are currently made in Sydney by British American Tobacco but that agreement runs out in June, and the Petone plant is set to gain from it.

But Associate Professor for Public Health at the University of Otago in Wellington, Nick Wilson, said New Zealand, as a responsible nation, should not be exporting any tobacco.

"Everyone knows this is a hazardous product, we should be in phase-out mode, and that means as part of that there should be no exports.

"We're not allowed to export certain products like land mines, we sign treaties to ban that, well this should be in the same category."

It was a failure by the Government to let the plant expand, rather than the tobacco industry which was just doing what it did in a capitalist market, he said.

"The failure is the Government to say we are not going to allow the exports...it's failure of the Government to regulate a hazardous market."

But as a result of the expansion 50 new jobs have been created and chief executive of Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, David Kiddey, said this was a good boost to the local economy.

"Fifty jobs all at once is really good and the economy is growing a little in places but it's generally only one, two or three jobs so getting 50 all at once is good."

This was probably the most significant job growth in the area in the past year, he said.

Tobacco was a legal product and if Australians were going to smoke it they might as well buy it from New Zealand, he said.

"Even if it was one job, as long as tobacco is legal, and making cigarettes is legal, then it's legitimate business."

The Cancer Society came out firing at the plant though, saying it was disappointing to see an international tobacco company increasing its capacity in a city which has some of the highest youth smoking rates in New Zealand.

Health promotion manager Jan Pearson said the argument it was creating 50 jobs did not wash.

"The increase in production will supply around 100,000 Australian smokers per year _ 20 per cent will die a cancer-related death."

It flew in the face of the world-wide move to decrease smoking rates, she said.

New Zealand has committed to a smokefree nation by 2025.

"There is no doubt Imperial Tobacco will use the job creation argument as an excuse to paint themselves as a good corporate citizen and to argue against future tobacco regulation that will save lives.

"The best way tobacco companies can contribute to the economy is to stop selling their products."

- APNZ

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