Tobacco company charged over importing prohibited product

The Ministry of Health has laid charges against tobacco giant Philip Morris for the importation and selling of HEETS. Photo / Supplied
The Ministry of Health has laid charges against tobacco giant Philip Morris for the importation and selling of HEETS. Photo / Supplied

A big tobacco company being prosecuted for importing and selling a prohibited tobacco product says the device could help create a smoke-free New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health today laid charges against Philip Morris in connection with its tobacco sticks known as HEETS.

Philip Morris general manager Jason Erickson said the company firmly believed it would be helping to advance the Government's goal of securing a smoke-free New Zealand when it introduced its smoke-free product IQOS here last year.

The ministry's decision to lay charges demonstrated the urgent need for comprehensive reform so smokers could switch from cigarettes to smoke-free alternatives including heated tobacco products, he said.

IQOS is an electronic device that heats tobacco sticks called HEETS to generate a nicotine vapour instead of smoke.

Philip Morris launched IQOS and HEETS in New Zealand in December as part of the company's global commitment to replacing conventional cigarettes with smoke-free alternatives, Erickson said.

He said the company was confident the sale of IQOS and HEETS fully complied with the Smoke-Free Environments Act and other relevant legislation.

"The section of the law referenced by the ministry in its action against Philip Morris was originally put in place in the 1990s to address American-style chewing tobacco," he said.

"It's clear that old 20th century laws are not sufficient to address new 21st century technologies that New Zealand smokers are embracing as they move away from combustible cigarettes."

The Government announced in March that it would legalise the sale and supply of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid, and establish a pathway to enable emerging tobacco and nicotine-delivery products to be sold lawfully as consumer products.

Erickson said IQOS was available in more than 20 countries. Globally more than two million smokers had switched to IQOS.

Co-director of ASPIRE 2025 Janet Hoek said it was good to see the ministry holding tobacco companies to account, but it would be "even better" to see the Government develop a "comprehensive plan" that would achieve the smoke-free 2025 goal.

"These tobacco stick products are marketed as 'smoke-free' replacements for conventional cigarettes, and promoted as a means to reduce harm from smoking. However the research on these new types of products is limited," Hoek said.

"Before any new tobacco products are introduced to New Zealand, we need clear evidence that these will contribute to the smoke-free 2025 goal. That is, new products should have to demonstrate they support complete smoking cessation more effectively than existing cessation options."

Hoek said the Government must continue with its programme of tobacco excise tax increases, and use the tax revenue obtained from tobacco to support quitting among groups where smoking prevalence peaks.

"It should also take urgent steps to reduce the widespread availability of tobacco products, and make tobacco more difficult to consume in settings where second hand smoke will harm others, such as cars."

The ministry considers HEETS fall into the category of tobacco products designed for oral use other than for smoking and are prohibited in New Zealand under Section 29 of the Smoke-Free Environments Act 1990.

The charges have been laid at the Wellington District Court and the case has been set down for first appearance on June 2.

- NZ Herald

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