Tobacco industry wants clampdown on black market, but doctor says ban the lot

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Debate is raging over whether there should be a crackdown on the black market in tobacco after a tobacco giant hired a private investigator to show the scale of black market sales in New Zealand.

British American Tobacco wants a clampdown on the black market, Seven Sharp reported.

Seven Sharp's Gill Higgins went to find out if home grown tobacco sales are something we should be worried about.
Source: Seven Sharp

"Everyone should be concerned. We're talking about a million pouches on the streets of New Zealand," said Saul Derber, British American Tobacco's head of legal and external affairs. 

"There is no excise being paid, no graphic health warnings being applied, no age controls. They can sell to anyone they want," he said.

It is legal to grow tobacco for personal use, but the Customs and Excise Act allows for much more tobacco than someone could possibly smoke themselves, and the illegal aspect is selling the processed leaf.

"It is a serious issue. It's a growing problem," Mr Derber said. 

The programme heard tobacco sells on the black market, including online, for about half the price of legal tobacco.

The bigger elephant in the room is the legal, regulated poison"
Northland doctor and health campaigner Lance O'Sullivan

Northland was named as one of several regions where's it's grown, but Northland doctor and health campaigner Lance O'Sullivan wasn't convinced this was a problem.

"We have such access to the legal product that I don't see a lot that's being illicitly grown," Dr O'Sullivan said

"Look, I think the bigger elephant in the room is the legal, regulated poison that we're allowing our communities access to," he said.

"We have it so readily available for them on every corner dairy and every gas station. So I actually believe that once you get rid of the regulated, legal market for tobacco this won't be an issue. This [is] smoke and mirrors by industry to direct our gaze from what is the bigger problem."

Mr Saul said it's not a question of banning the black market, "it's a question of licensing it".

Dr O'Sullivan says we should ban the whole lot, black market or not.

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