Tobacco giant in online offensive

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 10:53 22/08/2012
Steve Rush
GRAHAME COX / Fairfax NZ
OPPOSITION: BAT New Zealand general manager Steve Rush.
cigarette
Getty Images
FIGHTING: British American Tobacco's advert fighting plain packaging.

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A tobacco giant has launched a campaign to persuade the Government not to introduce plain cigarette packaging.

Speaking in Auckland today British American Tobacco's (BAT) New Zealand general manager Steve Rush said the company would advertise nationwide against plain packaging and also lobby MPs and cabinet ministers.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says the company was wasting its money.

Rush said the expense was "relatively small". When pressed further he said "we are probably spending hundreds of thousands''.

Tobacco advertising is outlawed in New Zealand but the campaign carries the logo "British American Tobacco New Zealand".

Rush admitted they had no specific outline of what the Government might want to do and said the campaign was based on preventing Australia's proposed plain packaging regulations from spreading.

He said it amounted to an assault on their intellectual property and could spread to other industries.

Rush declined to say what other industries the company had spoken with.

Ryall said British American Tobacco was wasting its money.

While the company could take whatever actions it wanted, the Government would be checking carefully to make sure it was within the law, he said.

"I think New Zealanders have moved on from being influenced in this way, I think there's a lot of support for what the Government is doing for tobacco, we've created a turning point in the fight against tobacco.

"I think they're just wasting their money."

There was clear legislation preventing the promotion of tobacco products, Ryall said.

"Depending on how they do it, it may or may not have an impact."

BAT's New Zealand operation was created in 1999.

In figures provided at the press conference, BAT say they "contributed" $875 million last year to the Government in excise and goods and sales tax.

As part of their campaign, which involves only BAT, they launched a website, AgreeDisagree.co.nz, under a banner "we agree that tobacco is harmful, we disagree that plain packaging will work".

"We are strongly opposed to the plain packaging of tobacco products and call on the Government to reject the proposal," BAT said.

"There's no proof that plain packaging would reduce smoking rates in New Zealand."

The company said intellectual property was one of the most valuable assets of business. "Our brands are our intellectual property, which we have created and in which we have invested.

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"Plain packaging would deprive us of the right to use our brands."

BAT said plain packaging infringed international obligations and would make counterfeiting easier.

"If plain packaging is implemented, adult consumers would no longer have the freedom to choose based on branding."

BAT said Australia was the only country to have passed plain packaging legislation. Other countries, such as Canada, looked at plain packaging and decided not to introduce the measure.

"Plain packaging, once introduced, is unlikely to be limited to tobacco products. Which products will be next?"

- © Fairfax NZ News

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