Last week it was revealed that Philip Morris (New Zealand) has taken British American Tobacco (New Zealand) to court. The two tobacco giants are squabbling over alleged anti-competitive behaviour by British American Tobacco in the New Zealand market. The dispute centres on an allegation by Philip Morris that British American Tobacco are "unlawfully incentivising and compelling retailers to restrict the availability of competitor products."
Of interest to public health organisations are the implications of the alleged behaviour for harm-reduction products such as e-cigarettes. These are some of the products Philip Morris alleges British American Tobacco have attempted to restrict retailers from supplying. Products that are significantly less harmful than tobacco, such as e-cigarettes, have been proven effective for some people who have found it difficult to stop smoking through other cessation strategies.
"While the industry fights with each other to keep selling their products that kill people, shouldn't we be fighting to stop them killing people full stop?" says Lance Norman, CEO of Hāpai Te Hauora. "The idea that you have businesses which cause massive harm taking each other to court to creating an even killing field is extremely questionable."
This revelation occurs at a time of change for tobacco control in New Zealand. Plain packaging has recently been introduced, Government support for e-cigarettes is under scrutiny and a recent announcement from the Ministry of Health signals a potential rethink of excise tax increases.
"Now, more than ever, it is essential we maintain our focus on supply-reduction activities to reduce the harm caused by tobacco in our communities," says Norman. "It’s clear from these allegations that the tobacco industry is feeling the pinch of reduced revenues through decline in smoking rates and we need to make sure they don’t find a way to reestablish themselves as part of our communities. A smokefree generation is within reach."