While fewer New Zealanders are smokers today than a decade ago, a cigarette manufacturer in New Zealand has attracted criticism for its plan to increase production of cigarettes for exports across the ditch. Imperial Tobacco’s Petone factory near New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington will quadruple its cigarette production with a two-year upgrade nearing completion. In a country with 6.3% unemployment, the $45 million upgrade will reportedly create 50 new jobs, and enable the company to export 4 billion cigarettes a year to Australia. While the New Zealand facility benefits from an expiring agreement Imperial has with British American Tobacco in Sydney, its an announcement slammed by anti-smoking groups across both sides of the Tasman. “For a city with some of the highest youth smoking rates in New Zealand it is disappointing to see an international tobacco company investing in a two year upgrade to increase its capacity to manufacture cigarettes,” says Dr Jan Pearson of the New Zealand Cancer Society. “Those 4 billion cigarettes will have to be the most unpopular and unwelcome Kiwi import to Australia. “The argument that they are creating 50 extra jobs here doesn’t wash with the Cancer Society. Our answer is every year in New Zealand the loss of 5,000 lives can be attributed to smoking. “The increase in production will supply around 100,000 Australian smokers per year – 20 percent will die a cancer-related death. ‘This flies in the face of the world-wide move to decrease smoking rates, especially amongst young people. “In New Zealand we have a commitment to a Smokefree New Zealand by 2025 and Councils all over the country are playing a major part in creating Smokefree parks, playing fields and other outdoor areas. “The best way tobacco companies can contribute to the economy is to stop selling their products.” Statistics New Zealand figures reveal that the number of cigarettes smoked by New Zealanders has dropped from 6 billion in the 1980s to 2 billion in 2011. Asians have the lowest rates of smoking in the country, while Maori and Pacific ethnic groups are overly-represented in smoking statistics for the 4-million Kiwi population. The cigarette company’s manager for the Petone plant, Michael McInnarney, told New Zealand’s the Dominion Post that staff had worked hard to prove they were capable of dealing with the increased work to get the contract. “And to be blunt, a lot of staff here have been working their arses off to get ourselves to the point where we are seen by the group as capable of taking on the additional production.”
Australians are not impressed, as they forecast the number of smokers to decrease in the coming years, resulting in lower imports of tobacco products.
“As Australians continue to smoke at lower rates and governments here seek to lead the world in reducing the harmful effects of tobacco use, we anticipate tobacco imports to Australia will also decline further, irrespective of country of origin,” says a spokesperson for the Cancer Council Australia.
The country is taking steps to further lower smoking rates in Australia. “We expect cigarettes sold in Australia from December 2012 will by law be in plain packages, reducing their appeal to smokers.”