'I'm confused': MPs question tobacco firm Imperial Brands' anti-smoking motivation

A tobacco company's strategy of transitioning smokers to vaping whilst pledging not to target new customers is being questioned by MPs. 

A representative for UK-based Imperial Brands - formerly known as Imperial Tobacco - submitted to the Health Select Committee on Wednesday over the proposed ban on smoking in cars. 

The company owns a vast range of brands, including Davidoff Cigarettes and Blu vapour products. It operates a large tobacco manufacturing plant in Petone just outside of Wellington.

Its head of corporate and legal affairs, Kirsten Daggar-Nickson, said it's not appropriate that e-cigarettes be included in the Bill, because they don't produce smoke. 

But MPs on the committee questioned the company's integrity, after Daggar-Nickson admitted that its main source of income is tobacco sales. 

"Public health authorities around the world have concluded that secondhand smoke is the cause of smoking-related diseases... and we do not challenge that message," Daggar-Nickson said. 

"But electronic vapour products, also known as e-cigarettes, don't contain tobacco, and deliver nicotine and flavour in the form of vapour."

She said the company isn't looking to transition anyone who is not currently smoking vape products, emphasising that it's for "people who have tried absolutely everything and cannot quit". 

"We feel very strongly about youth access prevention for both cigarettes and e-cigarettes."

Imperial Brands' head of corporate and legal affairs, Kirsten Daggar-Nickson.
Imperial Brands' head of corporate and legal affairs, Kirsten Daggar-Nickson. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

National MP Michael Woodhouse appeared to be perplexed. 

"I'm confused... so, when people my age die, your company ends, is that what you're saying?" Woodhouse asked. 

"No, we'd like to transition them to next-generation products," Daggar-Nickson replied. 

"But, if you are effective in actively discouraging new users to your product, your company ends. That's the logical conclusion," Woodhouse added. 

"Well, not if we've transitioned them to next-generation products, and otherwise diversified," Daggar-Nickson said. 

"I would say that we're committed to offering smokers something better."

He pointed out that the company's website states tobacco maximisation as a core part of its strategy, which appeared to contradict Daggar-Nickson's statements. 

MPs at the Health Select Committee including Labour's Louisa Wall and National's Michael Woodhouse and Maggie Barry.
MPs at the Health Select Committee including Labour's Louisa Wall and National's Michael Woodhouse and Maggie Barry. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

Labour MP Louisa Wall suggested Imperial Brands vaping products only be available via prescription, if the goal is for the product to be used as a tool to quit smoking. 

Daggar-Nickson said availability of the product is "key", because if ex-smokers aren't able to go to the dairy and pick up more vape juice, they might turn back to smoking cigarettes. 

Her presentation to MPs followed revelations last week that a submitter to the committee had received funding from the tobacco giant Philip Morris, a competitor of Imperial Brands. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) revealed it's been approached twice by Philip Morris under the guise of helping people quit cigarettes by moving to vaping - a product it's also promoting to move away from cigarettes. 

Daggar-Nickson said Imperial Brands is not undertaking similar activities to Philip Morris, and told the committee her company is "absolutely not" funding any submitters.

Vaping is currently unregulated but Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa has said legislation will be introduced within the next few weeks. 

She said it will include restrictions around advertising. 

Newhsub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz