A multinational cigarette company began an aggressive cigarette fightback against laws and prices to get people to quit the habit. A series of tax increase – with more on the way – has made New Zealand cigarettes among the most expensive in the OECD countries.
Other measures, such as a simple package are under consideration, and on Monday, stores will have to hide their cigarette displays. But the tobacco giant Philip Morris said that the regulations are going too far. The company, which has the third largest market share in New Zealand tobacco, distributes maps to direct people to the store website, through which smokers can have their say on the rules.
Retailers are asked to send cards to customers to buy Philip Morris products. The site myopinioncounts.co.nz, which was launched yesterday, “was a place where adult smokers may express its views on regulatory issues,” said a spokesman for Philip Morris, Chris Bishop.
“We talked to our customers … and we really got the sense that they wanted to have the opportunity to learn more about these issues and express their concerns about them,” he said. But anti-smoking group said yesterday that the move “reeked of desperation.” “The fact that they emerge from the shadows and begins to be more aggressive … to try to attract the public to lobby on their behalf, shows that they are afraid of things the government is trying to do,” said Action on Smoking and Health director Ben Youdan.
“If your company gets to the point where it can no longer engage constructively with policy makers and begins to attack them through the website, it shows you die.” In April, the tobacco companies a blow against the Cabinet decision to introduce plain packaging, subject to consultation. Imperial Tobacco and British American Tobacco announced a move would lead to a black market in tobacco.
Mr. Bishop said Philip Morris; consumers would like more information about such matters. He said that the web site and store cards were “in for a while,” but I can not say when it was first proposed. “Obviously, it takes several weeks for the website to get up. This did not happen at night … and it’s not what we planned five years ago.”
Mr. Youdan said the move Philip Morris showed exactly what the company considered its customers. “Smokers are drug addicts to them, who pay money to remain dependent on their products. “But I think they will see through it.”
He said it would be interesting to see how this plan is to deal the cards in the shops would work. “I suspect that they will try to stir up fears of retailers – what it will cost you business -. And use that as a way to intimidate retailers to take action” But Philip Morris says that the card system is voluntary.
The two main supermarket chains yesterday said they would not be handing the cards to customers.