3 Jul 2009

Turia prepared to take on tobacco giants

10:16 pm on 3 July 2009

New Zealand's Associate Health Minister is calling for an investigation into the actions of tobacco giants that have lowered their cigarette prices.

British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco have lowered the wholesale price of several brands, in some cases leading to a packet of cigarettes becoming 90 cents cheaper.

British American says it rejects suggestions that lower prices are intended to increase consumption.

Tariana Turia wants the Ministry of Health to investigate whether the move by the tobacco giants is legal under New Zealand's Smokefree Environments Act.

Mrs Turia says it is outrageous that while the Government is spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money to stop smoking addiction, the tobacco companies are enticing smokers to consume more.

If the Health Ministry report shows the tobacco companies are in breach of the act, Mrs Turia says she will have no hesitation in recommending that they be taken to court.

A Maori health specialist says the tobacco companies are being disingenuous in denying they are trying to lift sales through price cuts.

Paparangi Reid, of Auckland University, says the biggest tragedy is that the price cuts are a direct result of the current economic situation.

"It's aimed at recruiting more smokers or keeping people smoking so that people who are feeling the health effects keep smoking. I think it's a very nasty move."

Dr Reid says Maori are particularly vulnerable and more likely to smoke for longer as a result of lower prices.