A cigarette company's attempts to mobilise Kiwi opposition to anti-smoking laws by setting up a "smoker's rights" website has been condemned by a world expert on nicotine addiction, who says it is a cynical “astroturf” campaign.
Dr Joseph DiFranza, who is in New Zealand for a series of public and academic lectures on nicotine addiction and tobacco marketing, says the www.myopinioncounts.co.nz website, launched last week by tobacco giant Philip Morris, is an attempt to create a fake grassroot, or “astroturf” organisation.
He says in the US, tobacco companies have been backing dummy “rights” organisations with “high-sounding names” for 20 or more years, “trying to create the illusion that there are real live people on their side”.
The only good news, says DiFranza, is that to the best of his knowledge, such movements seldom have any effect.
DiFranza says he is far more concerned at attempts by cigarette companies to market their products to young smokers.
He says despite strong laws against marketing cigarettes to children, “cool” packaging and appealing in-store displays had been proven to resonate with kids and teenagers.
For that reason he strongly backed New Zealand's increasingly firm stance on tobacco, including a ban on store displays from tomorrow, moves toward adopting the plain packaging recently introduced in Australia, and high taxes.
DiFranza, from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has conducted world-leading research showing addiction to nicotine kicked in when a person smoked as few as two cigarettes a week. That meant there were many early addicts who did not realise it yet.
“People call themselves social smokers and don't identify themselves as addicted, because they don't smoke every day.”
DiFranza said even though tobacco companies now accepted smoking caused cancer, there was an alarming number of unregulated nicotine products coming to market, such as nicotine-infused bottled water, electronic cigarettes and tobacco lozenges.
While the health effects may not be as bad as from smoking cigarettes, the concern was, if society was on the verge of stamping out nicotine addiction, did it need new products to get people addicted again?
While DiFranza was dismissive of the My Opinion Counts campaign, he said he was fully in favour of smokers' rights. “They have the right to know what's in their cigarettes, and the right to sue the tobacco companies.”
Public lecture by Professor Joseph DiFranza. 5pm Thursday, Owen Glenn Building, Auckland University.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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