A health expert has come out swinging at tobacco giant Philip Morris, saying the Ministry of Health is right to prosecute the company for thinking it is "above the law".
The ministry yesterday announced it had laid charges against the company in connection with its tobacco sticks known as HEETS.
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.
They aim to continue to sell one product that kills and one product that is less likely to kill - a foot in both camps. In the end it's all about money.
"I applaud the Ministry of Health for prosecuting Philip Morris for 'illegally importing and selling' their new 'Heat-not-burn' reduced risk tobacco product in New Zealand - not because I dislike the product Philip Morris are pushing, but because they think they are above the law," said the tobacco and addictions innovation programme leader for the National Institute for Health, Dr Natalie Walker.
"Their behaviour is arrogant and disrespectful - and we should be enraged."
Smoking kills two in every three users, and has a significant impact upon the health of Māori and their whānau, Walker said.
'Heat-not-burn' products heat the tobacco rather than burning it, which Philip Morris claims reduces or eliminates the formation of many of the compounds that are produced at the high temperatures associated with combustion, and is why the products are considered to have less risk, she said.
Current heat-not-burn products have less tobacco in them and therefore will be taxed less, yet international data indicates these products are priced at the same level as conventional burnt tobacco, Walker said.
I would urge the government to be bold - tell all tobacco companies to get their combusted tobacco out of our country, it's not our future - maybe then we'll consider more favourably the place of their reduced risk tobacco products for our priority populations that they have harmed the most.
Walker questioned whether the products and other reduced nicotine and tobacco products had a place in New Zealand's Smokefree 2025 journey.
Although smoking rates in New Zealand are declining overall, there remain subgroups of the population who have higher than average smoking rates, and associated higher rates of smoking-related death and disease, she said.
"Current smoking cessation medication and support is having little impact on smoking prevalence in these subgroups - perhaps it's time to look at other strategies to help them."
This was one of the reasons the Government recently announced it will increase access to e-cigarettes and is looking at policy to enable access to reduced risk tobacco products, she said.
"Philip Morris decided not to wait for the Government to do this - they took matters into their own hands and broke the law in doing so.
"I would urge the government to be bold - tell all tobacco companies to get their combusted tobacco out of our country, it's not our future - maybe then we'll consider more favourably the place of their reduced risk tobacco products for our priority populations that they have harmed the most."
Philip Morris said in a statement yesterday the company firmly believed its products would help the smokefree New Zealand goal.
General manager Jason Erickson said the company was confident the sale of IQOS and HEETS fully complied with the Smoke-Free Environments Act and other relevant legislation.
The charges have been laid in the Wellington District Court and the case has been set down for first appearance on June 2.