The Ministry of Health has laid charges against tobacco company Philip Morris New Zealand relating to a new type of non-burning tobacco product.
The product, Iqos, was launched at the end of last year. It was promoted through an invitation-only website and used a battery-powered holder to heats tobacco sticks known as heets to give off vapour rather than smoke.
Heets are heated rather than burned like a traditional cigarette, to give smokers a nicotine hit.
The ministry said it considered heets were tobacco products designed for oral use other than for smoking and were prohibited under the Smoke-Free Environments Act.
The charges have been laid at the Wellington District Court and the case has been set down for first hearing on June 2.
The Ministry said in February that the device was legal but the sticks were not.
Philip Morris said the Ministry’s move demonstrated the need for comprehensive reform so that smokers could switch from cigarettes to smoke-free alternatives.
General manager of Philip Morris New Zealand Jason Erickson said the company believed it was helping to advance the Government’s goal of making the country smokefree when it introduced Iqos to New Zealand.
Erickson said the company was confident that the sale of Iqos and heets fully complied with the Smokefree Environments Act (1990) and other relevant legislation in New Zealand.
“We stand behind Iqos and heets,” Mr Erickson said. “But it’s clear that old 20th century laws are not sufficient to address new 21st century technologies that New Zealand smokers are embracing as they move away from combustible cigarettes.”
The New Zealand Government announced in March that it would legalise the sale and supply of nicotine e-cigarettes and e-liquid, and establish a pathway to enable emerging tobacco and nicotine-delivery products to be sold lawfully as consumer products.
Iqos is available in in more than 20 countries around the world, including the UK, Japan, Italy and Switzerland. Globally more than two million smokers have switched to IQOS and the company had plans to expand to key cities in 30 countries by the end of 2017, Erickson said.
Anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) said Philip Morris had been working in opposition to the Government’s goal of the country becoming smokefree by 2025.
“Philip Morris have enough lawyers, have enough researchers and have enough intelligence to ensure they adhere to this country’s laws,” said spokesman Boyd Broughton.
“The fact they have knowingly broken the law is another example of their absolute contempt towards the laws of New Zealand. Is this product harmful? We don’t know. But this discussion is now about this product, it’s about the law. What we must remember is that Philip Morris remains responsible for selling and profiting off the sale of smoked tobacco, which is responsible for the preventable and premature deaths of over 5000 New Zealanders per year.”