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Helen Clark criticizes Indian cigarette company

While a new law restricting cigarette displays in New Zealand shops came into effect this weekend, in another corner of the world, a former New Zealnd prime minister was presenting a business award to an Indian cigarette company.

India’s largest cigarette manufacturer received an award from Helen Clark, a former New Zealand prime minister, who then quickly described the award as “an oversight” and said her involvement in presenting a business award to a tobacco company won’t be happening again.

Helen Clark heads the United Nations Development Programme which supported a World Business Development Award to Indian Tobacco Company (ITC).

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India’s largest cigarette producer received  the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s highest prize for improving the environment and removing poverty.

In a statement, Helen says she was shocked that a tobacco company was given the award.

“I have worked tirelessly throughout my career to achieve a smoke free society in New Zealand, and was thus, shocked to learn that a World Business Development Award, supported by UNDP, was given to a company which derives a substantial proportion of its profits from tobacco,” she says.

“Unfortunately the criteria for the World Business Development Awards did not exclude projects implemented by companies from certain sectors like tobacco.

“This has clearly been a serious oversight.

“UNDP is reviewing its rules and regulations to ensure that an incident like this never happens again. UNDP will not participate in these awards in the future unless companies like this are excluded.

Ironically, Helen’s husband, Peter Davis, is a public health expert, and Helen has been true advocate of anti-smoking campaign in New Zealand.

In the meantime, New Zealand banned retail displays of cigarettes from today 23 July. New Zealand retailers will now have to keep all tobacco products hidden from customers, under the new law passed last year.

The ban will force dairies, supermarkets and petrol stations to store cigarettes below the counter.  Retailers may not even refer to tobacco products in their business names.

“The day has finally arrived when we can celebrate what we have done to protect our children,” says Skye Kimura, New Zealand Cancer Society’s Tobacco Control Advisor.

The ban marks the culmination of the Society’s campaigning since 2007 to get tobacco products out of sight.

“We want cigarette displays off the walls and under the counter,” said the Society in a statement in March 2007.

“Recent interviews with kids and teenagers tell us that one of the first things they see in a dairy is cigarettes,” the statement said.

The initiative was based on research at the time showing 66% of adult New Zealanders supported a total ban on the visual display of cigarettes. Support was even higher among non-smokers.

Since then numerous research papers and surveys have confirmed that cigarette displays ‘normalise’ smoking for young people – especially as displays are commonly sited next to the lollies. In another survey 45% of smokers agreed that cigarette displays at the checkout made it harder to quit.

“Our next job is to introduce plain packaging and then we will be well on our way to reaching our goal of a smoke-free Aotearoa by 2025,” says Skye.

A very high amount of tax has made New Zealand cigarettes one of the most expensive in the world, and has encouraged a practice of buying cigarettes while overseas.


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