By Andrew Young
The world's biggest tobacco company is aiming education packs at our classrooms, telling children they have the power to make their own decisions.
Anti-smoking groups have condemned the move as a devious public relations exercise.
The tobacco company Philip Morris has already launched the packs in Australia but changes are being made for our students.
The programme, aimed at form one to three students, does not refer to Philip Morris but covers the issue of smoking in some exercises.
The director of the Smokefree Coalition, Barbara Langford, said the packs put smoking alongside other negative child behaviour, but said nothing about the harmful effects.
The insidious free packs could be attractive to schools with few resources, she said.
She predicted the company would use the packs for political leverage, portraying itself as responsible and virtuous.
Philip Morris referred New Zealand Herald inquiries to Dr Kevin Donnelly, a Melbourne education consultant hired to design the programme.
Dr Donnelly said Philip Morris was merely financing the programme and had no other control. His company, Education Strategies, had run discussion groups and trials to test it in Australia.
Australian anti-tobacco groups had condemned Philip Morris, he said, but 1500 schools had asked for the packs and been supportive.
"Philip Morris is genuinely interested in putting a quality programme into schools to empower people, but they have been criticised. In reality, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't when they should be congratulated."
Dr Donnelly said about 30 Auckland and Wellington teachers saw the draft packs late last year and generally endorsed them. They were not told of Philip Morris' involvement.
He planned to test the material in 15 schools to ensure it was relevant.
The Ministry of Education last week wrote to the Smokefree Coalition, saying it was up to schools to decide on material used to teach the curriculum.
It was not the ministry's role to endorse or condemn material if it contained no advertising or brand names.
By Andrew Young