Big tobacco fights to beat NZ's rules

By Teuila Fuatai

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A multinational cigarette company has started an aggressive fightback against laws and price rises intended to make people quit the habit.

A series of tax rises - with more on the way - has made New Zealand cigarettes among the most expensive in the OECD.

Other measures such as plain packaging are being considered, and from Monday, shops will have to hide their cigarette displays.

But tobacco giant Philip Morris says the regulations are going too far.

The company, which has the third-largest share of the New Zealand tobacco market, is distributing cards to shops directing people to a website through which smokers can have their say on the regulations.

Retailers are being asked to hand the cards to customers buying Philip Morris products.

The myopinioncounts.co.nz website, which went live yesterday, "was a place where adult smokers could voice their opinions about regulatory issues", said Philip Morris spokesman Chris Bishop.

"We talked to our customers ... and we really got the sense that they wanted the ability to learn more about these issues and voice their concerns about them," he said.

But an anti-smoking group said last night that the move "reeked of desperation".

"The fact that they're stepping out of the shadows and starting to be more aggressive ... to try to recruit the public into lobbying on their behalf is showing they're very, very afraid of the things the Government is trying to do," said Action on Smoking and Health director Ben Youdan.

"When your company gets to the point where it can no longer engage constructively with policy makers and starts to attack them through a website, it shows you are dying."

In April, tobacco companies hit out against a Cabinet decision to impose plain packaging, subject to a consultation process.

Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco claimed the move would lead to a black market in tobacco.

Mr Bishop said Philip Morris consumers wanted more information about such issues.

He said the website and the shop cards had been "in the works for a while", but could not say when it was first proposed.

"It obviously takes a few weeks for a website to get up. It hasn't happened overnight ... and it's not something we were planning five years ago."

Mr Youdan said the Philip Morris move showed exactly what the company thought of its customers.

"Smokers to them are addicts who are paying money to stay addicted to their products.

"But I think they'll see through this."

He said it would be interesting to see how the plan to hand out cards in shops would work.

"I suspect they'll be trying to whip up fears with the retailers - that it's going to cost you business - and using that as a way to frighten retailers into taking action."

But Philip Morris says the cards scheme is voluntary.

The two main supermarket chains yesterday said they would not be handing the cards to customers.

PROPOSED REGULATIONS
* Increase price of 20 cigarettes to more than $20 in four years
* Put cigarettes in plain packs
* Ban smoking in outdoor public places
* Abolish duty-free allowances on tobacco products

- NZ Herald

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