Tobacco boss: 'Smokefree' will drive sales underground

Last updated 05:00 23/08/2012

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The boss of New Zealand's biggest tobacco company believes the Government's vision to make the country smokefree by 2025 will force cigarette sales underground.

Steve Rush, general manager of British American Tobacco New Zealand, yesterday launched a campaign to fight a Government proposal to force tobacco to be sold in plain packages. Its Agree-Disagree campaign will see the company spend “hundreds of thousands” in advertising nationwide.

The company wants the proposal dumped and would also lobby MPs and Cabinet ministers.

The smokefree plan is a key policy of National's support partner the Maori Party and is being pushed by co-leader Tariana Turia, who is also the associate health minister.

Mrs Turia has published a consultation document suggesting New Zealand copy Australia's move towards plain packaging of cigarettes.

BAT will put forward its submission against the move by the October deadline.

The High Court in Australia last week ruled that plain packaging did not contravene the Australian constitution. Plain packaging comes into force there in October.

In a rare interview, Mr Rush said plain packaging would not work, citing the graphic health warnings in 2008, which failed to cut smoking. It is his first major public campaign after 17 years with BAT.

“We thought this was such a big issue that we needed to [make] it very clear: yes, tobacco's harmful, but not all tobacco regulation is good regulation,” he said. “If you try and reduce smoking incidence by penalising legal operators then you will just force it underground.”

Such a move would not reduce consumption, but increase it as the product became more affordable: with companies unable to brand their products, they could be forced to compete on price.

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- Fairfax Media

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