Grilling due over cheap cigarettes

A Christchurch company selling cheap high nicotine cigarettes faces a grilling before a Government select committee on smoking.

Maori MP Hone Harawira said he would be asking the NZ Tobacco Group to appear before a Maori Affairs select committee hearing on the tobacco industry in Christchurch in about six weeks.

The business, based in Papanui offices, distributes two cigarette brands, Ashford and Easy, said to be big sellers in low socio economic areas. The Press found 20 cigarette Easy packs being sold in Christchurch stores for as little as $7.70, and about $9 for the Ashford brand.

All convenience stores contacted by The Press stocked at least one of the brands.

The average cost of a Dunhill or Benson & Hedges pack is about $12.

Figures show the nicotine content of Ashford Full Flavour is 1.25 milligrams compared with 0.9mg for Benson & Hedges Classic and 0.8mg for Dunhill Premier.

Tobacco related illness kills about 5000 Kiwis, including 600 Maori, a year.

NZ Tobacco company records show it imported about 2.5 million Easy Full Flavour cigarettes and 3.2 million Ashford Full Flavour into New Zealand in 2007.

The Easy packaging says the cigarettes are made in Luxembourg, under the authority of Easy Singapore for Richland Express, a discount cigarette company in Sydney.

Harawira said the company had not been “on his radar” before he was contacted by The Press.

“I’m bloody horrified, but not surprised at their tactics,” he said. “There’s now overwhelming support from New Zealanders to get rid of tobacco in this country and companies are doing their best to hook as many people as possible now, so they’re lowering prices and upping nicotine and marketing into places like Aranui and Otara.”

“What they are doing is maximising their profit before their demise and they don’t care that they’re killing New Zealanders to achieve it,” he said.

Harawira said the select committee had decided to come to Christchurch because it received so many submissions from the South Island.

NZ Tobacco Group is directed by Mark Philip Brown, of Richmond, Nelson, and two Singaporeans.

The company has 2.8 million shares, one million of which are owned by NZ Tobacco Holdings Ltd, the shares in which are owned by two New Zealand companies, Masuko Investments and Casbah Ltd.

Shares in Masuko are owned by Susette Brown, who lives at the same address as Mark Brown. Shares in Casba are owned by Rachid Benzaoui and Cheri Tiffen, of Motueka.

Brown, a Nelson accountant, told The Press last night he faced criticism whatever he said.

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