Philip Morris should go cold turkey on cigarettes - Cancer Society

If cigarette maker Philip Morris wants to stop selling cigarettes to Kiwis they should just go cold turkey, says the Cancer Society.

Philip Morris has promised to stop selling traditional cigarettes in New Zealand by the end of the year - but has promised to do it sooner if it can get a tax break.

"There is no motivation, at all, from anybody within Philip Morris to keep selling cigarettes in New Zealand," New Zealand general manager James Williams told RNZ.

The plan is currently to pull popular brands like Marlboro and Parliament from Kiwi shelves by the end of the year. The company last year announced its intention to "give up cigarettes" last year in a series of full-page adverts in UK newspapers.

It now appears New Zealand will be the trial run. Philip Morris has invested billions into vaping, which studies suggest has far less impact on users' health than cigarettes.

But the company - which has about 13 percent of the Kiwi tobacco market - says if taxes were lower for vaping products, it could take harmful cigarettes off the shelves sooner.

The Cancer Society is suspicious of the company's motives, saying we're being used as "guinea pigs" for larger markets, like the UK.

"It's not going to get cigarettes out of the country... let's be clear about that," spokesperson Shayne Tahu told Newshub.

"I wouldn't be giving any tobacco company a tax break."

He said if Philip Morris truly cared, it wouldn't be asking for tax breaks and taking its time phasing out cigarettes.

"Stop selling it. Why are you waiting for a tax break?"

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had similar thoughts, saying if the company wanted to be a good corporate citizen and benefit the health of Kiwis it wouldn't make cigarettes.

"I think if Philip Morris was genuinely interested in stopping harm from smoking they would stop selling cigarettes," she said. 

Mr Williams told RNZ the company couldn't go cold turkey, because smokers would just switch to other brands.

The level of excise tax on vaping products depends on how much nicotine it contains - the more nicotine, the higher the tax.

The Government has long had a goal of having fewer than 5 percent of adults smoking by the year 2025, but even with tax increasing 10 percent annually, the rate of decline has slowed in recent years.

The Tax Working Group last year said the Government should stop increasing taxes and find other ways to discourage people from smoking. The Government took in nearly $2 billion last year from tobacco sales.

"The Government prefers taking tobacco excise money from those addicted to smoking and rather than actually helping them quit, cries crocodile tears and ramps up taxes," Taxpayers' Union director Jordan Williams said last week. "It is very encouraging to see the Tax Working Group call the politicians out."

Studies have shown vaping is an effective method for helping people quit smoking cigarettes, at least compared to traditional methods.

Newshub has approached Philip Morris for comment.