Tobacco firms eye Facebook push

01:30, Apr 24 2011

Tobacco companies are looking at Facebook and YouTube to promote their products if New Zealand introduces new anti-smoking legislation.

And a paper from Ministry of Health deputy director-general Margie Apa has warned that one of the risks of a pending ban on visible tobacco displays would be "adverse reaction by convenience retailer lobby groups". The groups have close ties with tobacco companies.

The wide-ranging reforms include instant fines for retailers who sell cigarettes to minors. But Apa's 19-page report - written on the eve of cabinet approval of the reforms last November - says the moves could lead to tobacco giants looking to mount unrestricted online promotions.

"There is also a risk tobacco companies will divert their marketing efforts into unregulated channels, such as internet social networks and product placement in entertainment media, such as Facebook, YouTube, films and video games," the paper said.

Backers of the reforms say they are aimed at halving smoking by 2015 and ultimately making the country smoking- free by 2025.

The reforms are set to be introduced into law in the coming months, once amendments to the Smokefree Environments Act are passed.

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Associate Health Minister Tariana Turia has also confirmed the government will monitor a proposal in Australia to introduce plain packaging from 2012.

Apa's Better Retail Controls on Tobacco paper said the ban on retail displays and removing tobacco from view would cost individual retailers as much as $3000 in compliance costs.

The ban was the ministry's "preferred option", but Apa warned it could reduce the ability of officials to work with retailers.

Apa's summary described the current stands as a "promotional tool used to generate awareness of products, communicate information, stimulate trial and encourage repurchase".

"Retail tobacco displays impact on vulnerable consumers, such as people still experiencing nicotine withdrawal, and can prompt impulse purchases."

Apa wrote that the "key aspect" of her paper was to minimise costs to retailers and "allow for flexibility" over compliance methods.

The paper also tackled comments from opponents that it could lead to a black market. But Apa wrote that any link between removing tobacco displays and illicit trading was tenuous.

"It is not currently a significant problem and it is more likely to be price driven."

Sunday Star Times