Tobacco company defends retail display rule
Amid a barrage of Maori people calling for tough controls and the eventual banning of smoking, a tobacco company today asked for current sale display rules to remain the same.
As several people told emotional stories of losing loved ones to smoking-related illnesses, British American Tobacco New Zealand (BAT) told a Maori Affairs select committee inquiry into the tobacco industry in Auckland that visible tobacco stands were important to its business of selling a legal product.
The inquiry was called in particular to look at the consequences of tobacco use for Maori.
BAT managing director Graeme Amey said research showed removing cigarettes and other tobacco products from visibility in retail stores would have little impact on the prevalence of smoking.
But after Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei asked why BAT opposed this if it would make no impact on smoking, Mr Amey said it could lose market share as a result.
"We operate a commercial business and we are in the business of improving market share," he said.
"Brand switching would become an issue."
BAT's oral submission concentrated on suggestions on how to reduce the prevalence of smoking by children.
He said there should be greater education, that cigarette sellers should be licensed, and there should be greater enforcement of the laws restricting sales to people under 18.
Under strong questioning from Maori Party MP Hone Harawira, Mr Amey said BAT took no responsibility for the high death rates from smoking and in Maori in particular, but he did say there was no safe cigarette.
He said cigarettes were a legal product and those who chose to smoke knew they were putting themselves at risk.
Mr Amey admitted he had quit smoking after 10 years, saying he did so as a personal choice.
He said banning smoking would be counter-productive as it would merely increase the black market for nicotine.
Ngaire Rae of Manaia Public Health Organisation in Whangarei said she had just buried her father, who died from a smoking-related disease at the age of 68.
She said her story was all too common in Northland, where a huge proportion of Maori were smokers.
"He should be sharing his life stories with his whanau, and instead we are deprived of his wisdom and his life stories," she said.
"I am pleased to make sure that there are some strong actions as a result of this inquiry. Let's not make this a talkfest, let's make sure your time and ours is not a waste."
Dr Marewa Glover called for an eventual ban on smoking and improvement in accessing services to quit.
"It needs to be as effective as a sniper rather than a shotgun firing bullets in different directions, some of them contradictory."
Dr Glover said many Maori believed smoking couldn't be too bad if the Government didn't think it needed to make the drug illegal.
She said some services to help people quit smoking were good but others were ineffective and involved too much time.
"That sort of help needs to be as easy as going to the dairy to buy a packet of smokes."
Dr Glover said parliamentarians had been negligent, accusing them of "prancing around and partying with the smoking industry while our people are smoking and dying".
She said the large GST take and excise tax take gave Government an incentive to keep smoking legal, and that only 5.5 percent of the smoking tax take was going into tobacco control, which she said wasn't enough.
Dr Glover also said some advertising campaigns advising smokers to leave the room or car to smoke were missing the point, as these gave people the idea it was still okay to keep smoking when it wasn't.
She also called for greater effort to be made to stop young Maori women smoking either before or during pregnancy.
The inquiry continues.