A Christchurch company selling cheap high nicotine cigarettes faces a grilling before a Government select committee on smoking.

Maori MP Hone Harawira said he would be asking the NZ Tobacco Group to appear before a Maori Affairs select committee hearing on the tobacco industry in Christchurch in about six weeks.

The business, based in Papanui offices, distributes two cigarette brands, Ashford and Easy, said to be big sellers in low socio economic areas. The Press found 20 cigarette Easy packs being sold in Christchurch stores for as little as $7.70, and about $9 for the Ashford brand.

All convenience stores contacted by The Press stocked at least one of the brands.

The average cost of a Dunhill or Benson & Hedges pack is about $12.

Figures show the nicotine content of Ashford Full Flavour is 1.25 milligrams compared with 0.9mg for Benson & Hedges Classic and 0.8mg for Dunhill Premier.

Tobacco related illness kills about 5000 Kiwis, including 600 Maori, a year.

NZ Tobacco company records show it imported about 2.5 million Easy Full Flavour cigarettes and 3.2 million Ashford Full Flavour into New Zealand in 2007.

The Easy packaging says the cigarettes are made in Luxembourg, under the authority of Easy Singapore for Richland Express, a discount cigarette company in Sydney.

Harawira said the company had not been “on his radar” before he was contacted by The Press.

“I’m bloody horrified, but not surprised at their tactics,” he said. “There’s now overwhelming support from New Zealanders to get rid of tobacco in this country and companies are doing their best to hook as many people as possible now, so they’re lowering prices and upping nicotine and marketing into places like Aranui and Otara.”

“What they are doing is maximising their profit before their demise and they don’t care that they’re killing New Zealanders to achieve it,” he said.

Harawira said the select committee had decided to come to Christchurch because it received so many submissions from the South Island.

NZ Tobacco Group is directed by Mark Philip Brown, of Richmond, Nelson, and two Singaporeans.

The company has 2.8 million shares, one million of which are owned by NZ Tobacco Holdings Ltd, the shares in which are owned by two New Zealand companies, Masuko Investments and Casbah Ltd.

Shares in Masuko are owned by Susette Brown, who lives at the same address as Mark Brown. Shares in Casba are owned by Rachid Benzaoui and Cheri Tiffen, of Motueka.

Brown, a Nelson accountant, told The Press last night he faced criticism whatever he said.

Cheap cigarettes just a trap: plibersek – abc news (australian broadcasting corporation)

Regulate e-cigarettes – nytimes.com

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek has slammed a decision by British American Tobacco Australia (BATA) to start selling cut price cigarettes.

The company says the burden of high excise is forcing it to market a cut price product to compete with black market tobacco.

BATA spokesman Scott McIntyre says black market cigarettes retail for between $8 and $10.

The company’s Just Smokes went on the market last week and are retailing for about $12.

Ms Plibersek says she is most worried about the effects on young people.

“We know that smokers are very price sensitive and we know that the most price sensitive smokers are teenagers,” she said.

“Young people who are just starting to smoke are more likely to smoke if cigarettes are cheaper.”

She says she suspects the company’s motives.

“What they’re interested in doing is attracting new smokers and keeping existing smokers, and they’ll do whatever it takes to do that,” she said.

“Every time the Government has introduced something like plain packaging, like graphic health warnings, like increasing excise, they’ve (tobacco companies) said these measures won’t work to reduce smoking rates.

” But they have worked to reduce smoking rates.”

Supply and demand

Mr McIntyre says the issue is a matter of supply and demand.

“Our customers have been down trading to cheaper products or illegal cigarettes, so we’ve been forced to compete,” he said.

“When we launched our campaign to highlight the unintended consequences of plain packaging this time last year, we made it very clear that cheaper cigarettes were coming.

“Not only is the industry being forced to compete against each other, we’re fighting for customers alongside organised crime groups who obviously don’t pay the 70 per cent excise to the Government.”

The Government is planning to bring in plain packaging for cigarettes in December.

The laws specify all cigarette packets are to be the same shape with the same drab colour and print.

Court challenge

British American Tobacco is among a number of tobacco companies to challenge the laws in the High Court.

The companies are arguing the changes will extinguish their trademark, leaving only the names in a generic font as their distinguishing mark.

The hearing has concluded but the bench of the High Court has reserved its decision.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Nicola Roxon is being honoured internationally for her initiative in the fight against tobacco.

Ms Roxon will receive a global champion award tonight at Washington’s Georgetown University for introducing plain packaging legislation in her former role as health minister.

Topics smoking, health, federal government, australia

First posted May 17, 2012 11 21 35