30 July 2007

Internet tobacco sales ban – counter-productive at this stage

Some health advocates want an internet tobacco sales ban to curb tobacco advertising on the internet, and to end a new source of cheap cigarettes. A internet sales ban could, however, delay and hinder efforts to reach the over-arching goal of no cigarette and smoking tobacco product sales from any source, in countries such as New Zealand and Australia.

We argue that fastest way to achieve an overall cigarette sales ban is to retain internet sales to expedite the final goal of ending all cigarette sales, firstly at street level, and lastly by internet.



Once we have properly enforced law, as now in Australia thanks to the Australian CCC, (whose lead the NZ Commerce Commission tends to follow), the argument for an internet sales ban to control tobacco advertising disappears.

Example #1. Internet sales could help prevent direct cigarette shop purchases by young people.

As part of a campaign to end cigarette sales, we might as a stepping stone to a full sales ban, wish to gradually close down all retail outlets for smoking tobacco, so as to deny the opportunity to children and teenagers under 18 to buy their own cigarettes - as a large proportion do, despite the under 18 law. This could only be done at present if there was an internet sales facility (within the excise tax jurisdiction, so that purchasers paid the required tobacco excise). Internet sales require credit cards, barred to under 18s. This arrangement surely gives better control than by restricting sales to, for example,  bottle stores, and relying on them to enforce the under 18s sales ban.

Example # 2. Internet sales reduce harm by making smokeless available for personal use.

If internet tobacco sales were banned, smokers in both Australia and New Zealand would not be able to access snus even for personal use as they can at present. Some years ago, smokeless users were allegedly 5 000 in Australia (Tobacco in Australia, a Quit Victoria publication) but now only some still use it, and these too, would revert to smoking, if internet sales were also banned. 

Snuff (in Sweden, snus) is one of the safest ways to satisfy a nicotine addiction, and could help more smokers quit and switch in future. In future, many will learn to like snus in Sweden, Norway and possibly the EU countries, and if they can’t get it, they will revert to smoking.


Examples of over-regulation of oral smokeless tobacco with unintended consequences

Case in point # 1.  Pituri – an Australian example

Any ban on internet tobacco sales needs to be careful to ensure than people who use non-smoking tobaccos can buy it. At present smokeless pituri, used by indigenous Australians for thousands of years, along with all other forms of smokeless tobacco, is banned in Queensland and in most Australian states except perhaps WA, (Reference Tobacco in Australia, a Quit Victoria publication). This is a tragedy for nicotine-dependent indigenous Australians who have no option but to smoke, which is far more dangerous. Pituri could otherwise be useful as the basis for a uniquely Australian smokeless brand, much safer than hand-rolled tobacco.

Case in point # 2 . Snus - a New Zealand example

In 1990  New Zealand banned oral tobacco in New Zealand. No-one could foresee that snus was going to help reduce smoking and lung cancer in Sweden. Today  without that ban NZ would now be 17 years down the Swedish road, and many thousands of our smokers would probably have switched and avoided lung damage by now.


A law ending cigarette sales can save 4000 lives and $22 billion annually

 Dr Murray Laugesen QSO chair; Prof Ross McCormick, Sir John Scott KBE, Trish Fraser MPH, Dr Marewa Glover, Trustees

Making it easier to quit smoking for good 2009 End Smoking NZ