The Ministry of Health is staying quiet on a claim a tobacco giant is illegally selling one of its products from a New Zealand website.

This comes after Imperial Tobacco provided the ministry and the Otago Daily Times with evidence its rival, Philip Morris, was selling a high-tech tobacco product to New Zealanders from a website it had set up.

Philip Morris responded by saying Imperial Tobacco was only making an issue of the product because it was at a "competitive disadvantage'' and did not have a comparable product of its own.

The product, called Iqos, is a battery-powered holder that heats a specially designed tobacco stick, called Heets, rather than burning it like traditional cigarettes.

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In February the ministry said it believed Heets were illegal under the Smoke-free Environments Act because the tobacco in them was heated as opposed to burnt.

The ministry's chief legal adviser, Phil Knipe, yesterday confirmed it had received correspondence from Imperial Tobacco about the product, but could not comment further until the outcome of an investigation.

"The Ministry of Health expects to make an announcement soon about the outcome of its investigation into the importation and sale of this product,'' Knipe said.

The Ministry of Health investigation comes after Imperial Tobacco supplied photographic evidence Philip Morris was allegedly shipping Heets to New Zealand customers.
The Ministry of Health investigation comes after Imperial Tobacco supplied photographic evidence Philip Morris was allegedly shipping Heets to New Zealand customers.

This comes after Imperial Tobacco supplied photographic evidence Philip Morris was shipping Heets to New Zealand customers.

The evidence included photos of the ordered product and a filled in online order form.

Imperial Tobacco said it did not appear the product was labelled with the appropriate legally required health warnings, which included having warnings in Maori and graphic warnings.

Imperial Tobacco head of corporate and legal affairs Andrew Gregson said it wanted some clarification on the legality of the product.

"We are obviously confused that the product is for sale in the first place after the ministry said it's illegal, but then we are equally confused that the stuff is being sold in the absence any of the stringencies around tobacco that we have to comply with,'' Gregson said.

It had an oral tobacco product and e-cigarette brand which were not for sale in New Zealand because they were illegal.

"Our interest is in understanding exactly what the law is and therefore understanding what the market is that we can compete in.

"We just want a level playing field and at the moment we are confused as to what is and what isn't allowed in that playing field.

"We thought the Ministry had been very clear, so really we need to see from them some intent.''

Philip Morris New Zealand general manager Jason Erickson said it had launched Iqos and Heets in New Zealand as part of its commitment to developing smoke-free products which will eventually replace conventional cigarettes.

"Make no mistake, this is 100 per cent about Imperial's competitive disadvantage.

"They don't have a competitive heated tobacco offering, and they're doing everything in their power to stop smokers from switching to heated tobacco,'' Erickson said.

It said Heets fully complied with New Zealand law.

"We've shared our views and approach with the Ministry of Health and supplied them with Heets packaging.''