Illegal import of tobacco sticks — In The News

The Ministry of Health is taking tobacco giant Philip Morris International to court over illegally importing the tobacco sticks used in their electronic device (iQOS) which heats, rather than burns, tobacco. 

iQOS is the tobacco stick developed by Philip Morris sold as an alternative to cigarettes. ACBSA/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

While the electronic device itself isn’t illegal, the tobacco sticks — known as HEETS — are. The Smoke-Free Environment Act prohibits advertising, importing and distributing “any tobacco product labelled or otherwise described as suitable for chewing, or for any other oral use (other than smoking).”

Co-director of ASPIRE 2025, Professor Janet Hoek from the University of Otago told Newstalk ZB: “It’s really sensible that the Ministry of Health is taking an assertive position here and that it’s actually testing the law as it applies to these new products — rather than allowing them to become established and then being in the position of having to regulate retrospectively.”

The New Zealand spokesperson for the Philip Morris, Jason Eriksson said in a statement“The section of the law referenced by the ministry in its action against Philip Morris was originally put in place in the 1990s to address American-style chewing tobacco… 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.”

A spokesperson for the anti-smoking group Action on Smoking and Health, Boyd Broughton, told “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.”

The announcement was covered by a number of local news outlets:

NZ Herald: Tobacco company charged over importing prohibited product
Otago Daily Times: Ministry takes Philip Morris to court Charges laid against Philip Morris
TVNZ: NZ Health Ministry charges America’s Philip Morris over vape sticks
NewstalkZB: High-tech smoking product ‘has no place in NZ’
RadioNZ: Philip Morris charged over tobacco sticks
Newshub: Tobacco company faces court over HEETS product