Complaints over tobacco 'public awareness campaign'

Last updated 05:00 25/10/2012

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A tobacco giant is being accused of illegally advertising cigarettes under the guise of a "public awareness campaign".

The Health Ministry has received 14 complaints against British American Tobacco New Zealand's "agree/disagree" campaign opposing plain packaging.

The complainants say the company's campaign - which has included television, radio and print ads - breaches the tobacco advertising ban.

But the ministry has disagreed, with chief legal adviser Phil Knipe claiming that there were "insufficient grounds to support enforcement action at this time".

Advertising Standards Authority chief executive Hilary Souter said she had also received complaints calling the campaign illegal, all of which had been referred to the ministry.

"Whether or not the ad is a tobacco ad is outside our mandate," she said.

On Friday, the authority also dismissed five complaints against British American Tobacco (BAT) regarding other aspects of its campaign. Most complainants felt the campaign was misleading, confusing facts with opinions.

One complainant called it "an attack on the sovereignty of political discourse in New Zealand".

But the authority found BAT had clearly separated fact from opinion and was within its rights to comment on Government policy.

The New Zealand tobacco industry is facing increased regulations and taxes as part of the Government's aim to eliminate smoking by 2025.

In the past two months, BAT has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing a proposal to enforce plain packaging on all tobacco products.

The agree/disagree campaign has focused mainly on intellectual property infringement, speculating that alcohol could be the next victim of plain packaging. All the advertisements have included an explicit reference to BAT.

Its corporate and regulatory affairs head for New Zealand, Susan Jones, said the company complied with all laws regarding tobacco advertising.

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- The Dominion Post

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