Cancer Society blasts tobacco export

Last updated 17:14 26/03/2012
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KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

PRODUCTION LINE: Michael McInnarney, factory manager for Imperial Tobacco's Petone plant.

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Hutt Valley

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News that Imperial Tobacco's Petone factory is gearing up to massively increase cigarette production has been greeted with horror by the Cancer Society.

The long-established factory in Richmond St will be quadrupling its exports to Australia and introducing 50 new jobs, with a two-year, $45-million upgrade nearing completion.

Cancer Society health promotion manager Jan Pearson said the move, which will see 4 billion cigarettes per year delivered to Australia, was "disappointing".

"Those four billion cigarettes will have to be the most unpopular and unwelcome Kiwi import to Australia.

"The argument that they are creating 50 extra jobs here doesn't wash with the Cancer Society. Our answer is every year in New Zealand the loss of 5,000 lives can be attributed to smoking.

"The increase in production will supply around 100,000 Australian smokers per year - 20 percent will die a cancer-related death.  

At the Petone factory, six new production lines feature German machinery capable of spitting out 8000 cigarettes each minute - nearly half a million per hour. Manufacturing staff numbers are increasing from 70 to 120.

Most of Imperial's cigarettes for Australia are made in Sydney by British American Tobacco, but that agreement runs out in June, with Petone set to benefit.

Packets of up to 40 cigarettes in brands including JPS, Horizon and Davidoff will be manufactured in Lower Hutt and exported to Australia.

Factory manager Michael McInnarney, who has worked there for more than a decade, said staff had worked hard to convince the British parent company that it was worthy of a major investment, which could have otherwise gone to somewhere in Asia.

"A variety of other sites were looked at, but it was decided logistically and for transport costs that it made very good sense to have it in New Zealand," Mr McInnarney said.

"And to be blunt, a lot of staff here have been working their arses off to get ourselves to the point where we are seen by the group as capable of taking on the additional production."

The number of cigarettes smoked in New Zealand each year has fallen from more than 6 billion in the early 1980s, to just over 2 billion in 2011, according to Statistics NZ figures.

Regulation has progressively increased taxes as well as restricting sales and advertising.

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