No break for Smoko's

UP IN SMOKE: Kevin Carroll is the first retailer to be convicted under the new smokefree laws, for using Smoko in his business name.
UP IN SMOKE: Kevin Carroll is the first retailer to be convicted under the new smokefree laws, for using Smoko in his business name.

To many, smoko means taking a work break.

It did for Kevin Carroll and with more than $70,000 on the line he was hoping judge David Ruth would agree.

But the owner of a Henderson tobacco store has become the first retailer to be convicted under the new smokefree laws because of his store's name, Smoko's Discount Specialist.

He was fined $5000 in the Hamilton District Court on October 24 for using the word smoko on his store's signs and pleaded guilty to five charges of contravening Section 22 of the Smokefree Environments Act.

Mr Carroll, 50, opened his chain of stores in 2010 and has had to pay more than $75,000 in court, legal and rebranding fees.

The Hamilton resident bought Smoko's signage for the Lincoln Rd store before spending $8000 on changing it to The Big S when it opened in June.

Mr Carroll says he never intended for the name to reflect the use of tobacco.

"When I first started the business I didn't have a crystal ball telling me the Government was intending to change the law surrounding advertising of tobacco products," he says.

"I thought the name was appropriate as it's a well-known term in New Zealand meaning taking a break.

"People tend to enjoy a coffee, a smoke, a sandwich or whatever while on their smoko," he says.

Health ministry officials dismissed Mr Carroll's argument saying the word was a "blatant breach" of the act.

Mr Carroll will spend $12,000 over the next six weeks to rebrand his website and stores in Hamilton, Whangarei, Manakau and Thames.

Mr Carroll says the new name is affecting business as customers fail to make the link between the other stores.

The father of two is applying for New Zealand residency and says although he still enjoys the country, the incident's left a bad taste in his mouth.

Mr Carroll says the money lost is equivalent to the revenue earned over the four years his business has been running.

"It's taken me four years to earn what the Health Ministry's taken from me and I'm now back to point zero.

"But I'll endeavour to provide the best and most responsible service my store's are renowned for."

Lawyer Jamie Eng acting for the ministry says the focus of the prosecution was to deter other retailers from breaching the Smokefree Environments Act.

Judge David Ruth says the term smoko could mean a refreshment break for some but for others engaged in the "disgusting habit" it could have a different meaning.

Western Leader