Outrage over tobacco giant Philip Morris' attempts to target poor Kiwis

Outrage over tobacco giant Philip Morris' attempts to target poor Kiwis

A poverty action group is outraged by a tobacco giant's attempts to target the poor with its smokeless vaping products. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) says it has been approached twice by Philip Morris under the guise of helping people quit cigarettes - and they weren't the only target.

AAAP says vaping companies are targeting the poor. 

"So Philip Morris approached us in June to try and arrange a meeting," says AAAP coordinator, Ricardo Menéndez-March.

He says the company wanted to discuss whether its IQOS "smokeless tobacco" device could help people quit smoking.

AAAP says an email on behalf of the tobacco giant detailed its desire to "help people understand there are much less harmful, alternative products available". 

And "in particular ... address the high rates of women smokers". 

"Vaping products, while they may cause less harm than traditional tobacco products, are still highly addictive and very expensive - which means there is a harm associated to them for low-income communities," says Menéndez-March.

The email was followed up by another in July, and Philip Morris has also written to the Ministry of Health asking to give the device away for "community-based trials, data collection and monitoring".

It also pitches a "significant public health benefit if health providers could include 'IQOS' in their overall stop smoking programme.

"They're promoting harm reduction as a legitimate policy because that's going to give them a voice in wider debate and policy creation," says Professor Janet Hoek, a public health expert.

Hoek says Philip Morris is making the most of an unregulated market and is motivated by profits - and many believe companies like Philip Morris are capitalising on that.

"I think their primary objective is to maximise profit for their shareholders," says Hoek.

However, Philip Morris says that's not the case. They say that shifting its focus from cigarettes to reduced-risk products have cost them money, and claims IQOS are 95 percent safer than cigarettes. The company says it wants to be part of a solution. 

But many believe a solution will only come with proper regulation.