Fox versus Gietz on tobacco

Here’s the debate between Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox and Imperial Tobacco’s corporate affairs director Axel Gietz.

Gietz defended the right of tobacco companies to protect their brands, while Fox showed plenty of passion and a bit much personal attack in response.

Debate: Marama Fox, Axel Gietz on smoking

And here’s CNN coverage of the interview showing Fox attacking Gietz and then walking out of the debate (as it was winding up).

NZ MP walks off televised interview after blasting tobacco spokesman as a ‘peddler of death’

A New Zealand MP has walked out of the end of a televised debate with a tobacco company spokesman after he argued that Australia’s plain packaging rules did not affect the long term consumption of cigarettes.

Debate transcript:

Lisa Owen: But now it’s perfectly legal, yet it kills 5000 Kiwis a year. That’s why the Maori Party wants smoking in this country stubbed out by 2025. Right now the government’s calling for public submissions on its plans to introduce plain-pack cigarettes this year. The same move in Australia resulted in a legal throwdown with Big Tobacco but claims it does nothing to stop people lighting up. So who’s right? Well, joining me now to debate the issue is Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox and Imperial Tobacco’s corporate affairs director Axel Gietz, who has travelled from the UK specially to be on the show this morning. Welcome to you both. If I can start with you, Mr Gietz. Smoking kills around six million people around the globe a year. So to kick things off, is it a good thing to smoke?

Axel Gietz: Look, the fact that smoking leads to diseases has been known for more than 50 years. We’ve been printing health warnings in this country on our packs since 1973. You will not find one person on the streets of Auckland who won’t tell you it’s bad for you.

Owen: I’m asking you, is it bad for you? And is it a good thing to smoke?

Gietz: People make choices. 17% of the adult population in this country choose to smoke. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that 70% of the price of a packet of cigarettes is taxes. We don’t sell tobacco. We sell taxes. So as long as consumers want a perfectly legal product, fully knowing what it may or may not do to their health, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to buy and enjoy it.

Fox: Mr Gietz, you say that you print health warnings on the packages, but not by choice. You print them on there because we have forced you to do that under government regulation. The tobacco company didn’t come out and go, ‘Oh my goodness, my public service to the nation is to tell you that this is bad for you.’ You fought tooth and nail to not put warnings on to packaging, and you fight tooth and nail to resist every measure that governments have the sovereign right to put in their countries.

Gietz: We are not for one moment disputing the sovereign right of governments, of lawmakers, as parliamentarians are called.

Fox: Well, that’s not true. You do dispute it. You’ve joined the fight in Australia to take the Australian government to court. So you do dispute it. You’ve threatened the UK government that you may yet sue them. You’ve threatened our government that you may yet sue us.

Gietz: If I may, first of all, I think we all want laws that are intelligent, that are based on all the available evidence and that actually work.

Fox: That protect the health of our people.

Gietz: We perfectly support public health agendas. The point is – do the laws work, or do they not work?

Fox: Surely that’s hypocritical. You support public health agendas, and yet you peddle sticks of death to our people. Because that’s what they are. Let’s be clear. We’ve got 500,000 people in New Zealand who smoke. Half of them will die. Half of them will be sick. So you support public health? Surely that’s hypocritical.

Gietz: It’s not hypocritical at all. It’s a legal product consumed by 17% of your adult population.

Fox: That kills our people.

Owen: Mrs Fox, Mr Gietz is basically saying it’s free choice; you can choose. People don’t force you to smoke a cigarette, you make that choice.

Fox: And once you do, you are addicted. And they know that. The addiction is what continues our people to smoke. I ask our families who bury their members of their… their grandparents and their mothers and their fathers in the grounds every year, ‘Why do you still smoke?’ They are addicted. They don’t want their children to smoke. They don’t want their children to rise up and do the same dumb things and the dumb choices that they have made that have seen that they are now addicted. It is a lifelong addiction that we try to change.

Owen: Mr Gietz, what do you say to the families of those people that Marama Fox is talking about?

Gietz: Can I just address this that was said just now? There are more former smokers in the world today than current smokers. What you call addiction is a fact.

Fox: Because we are trying to help them do that.

Gietz: It is hard to give up.

Fox: That’s right.

Gietz: And every smoker has a certain threshold at which he or she is able to give up smoking. This is not the issue. The issue is that people choose to smoke.

Fox: No, it is the issue.

Gietz: And if they do so, as I said before, everybody at one point in their lives may find a reason why they want to stop. There are more former smokers than current smokers.

Fox: And there are more smokers of cigarettes who are buried in the ground. Look, for the last 27 years – 27 years – I have not attended a funeral of someone in our family, and I’ve attended numerous funerals, who has died of natural causes. We have the highest rates in the world of Maori women of COPD. We have the highest rates in New Zealand for SIDS, for diabetes, for all these cancers, and they are putting our people in the graveyard, and you and your companies are addicting people to cigarettes and telling us that it’s their free choice and that’s fine, ‘We’re going to profit off the death of your people.’

Owen: Mr Gietz, can I go back to my original question? What do you say to those families that Marama Fox is talking about – the ones who are burying their loved ones?

Gietz: Look, every kind of human suffering is tragic. There’s no doubt about that.

Fox: But you profit from it.

Gietz: We sell a product that creates diseases in smokers – not in every smoker. It’s on our website. Everybody knows it, but people still want to consume it.

Fox: And you still want to improve your profit margins, which is why you threaten to sue governments who have the sovereign right to make legislation to introduce things like plain packaging.

Gietz: Can I just address this, if I may? Because something comes into play here, which is our intellectual property. In our line of business, we have three types of assets. We have our people, we have our factories, and we have our brands. We spend a lot of time and effort and money to build these brands. We’re a fast-moving consumer-goods industry, so we cannot just sit back when one of these three key assets is taken away from us. Of course we will defend the right to use our brands. We own them.

Owen: Mr Gietz, will you defend that right in New Zealand? If we go ahead with plain packaging, are you going to take us to court as well?

Gietz: Well, let’s cross that bridge when we get there. For the moment, we’re discussing whether this law…

Fox: You have already threatened to take us to court.

Gietz: I have not. Whether this law is actually, as I said before, evidence based, intelligent and will work. And I am grateful…

Fox: In 2014, you threatened this government—

Owen: We’ll come to that in a minute, but I just want a clear answer to this. If we go ahead with plain packaging, can you rule out taking legal action against New Zealand?

Gietz: Of course I cannot rule anything out. As I said before, it’s our intellectual property. But any kind of lawsuit is always the last resort. Why do you think I’m here now? And I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate in public, to give our expertise to the decision-making process. Nobody will ever know more about our business than we do. We just want to make this contribution.

Owen: Mrs Fox, the point about intellectual property — this is a perfectly legal business. Why do you think we’ve got the right as a country to take that away from a perfectly legal business?

Fox: Because we are trying to save the lives of our people. We are trying to protect our children from growing up as orphans when their parents and their grandparents are buried in the ground, when we spend millions and millions of dollars, in fact, billions of dollars, in the health system trying to battle issues that are caused by smoking – smoking-related illnesses.

Owen: So I’m wondering where the line in the sand is, then. So do you go to KFC and McDonalds and Coca-Cola and say, ‘You too must have plain packaging because we’ve got an epidemic of diabetes and obesity.’

Fox: That’s right, and we have already come out and said that…

Where’s the line?

Fox: …we would like to introduce the sugar tax. We need to help and assist our nation grow healthy people. In fact, it’s about raising a generation of young people who do not have to in their adulthood make a choice of whether to give up. We want a smoke-free generation.

Owen: You would make KFC and McDonalds and Coke plain-pack as well if you could?

Fox: What I would like to do is to see the health of our people improved, and if that means excise tax on sugar, then we are fully prepared to do that. In fact, we would like to see that introduced. We introduced in New Zealand— actually, the Maori Party introduced hiding the cigarette advertising, putting the counters so our children could not see cigarettes being sold next to lollies.

Owen: Okay, well, let’s get to the heart of this. Does it work, Mr Gietz? Does it work to go to plain packaging? Does it discourage people from smoking? Does it make them give up?

Gietz: Well, we have one real-life example, which is Australia, that introduced plain packaging in December 2012. Now, Australia, being the pioneer, went through a process where a lot of people at certain points spoke of unintended consequences.

Fox: Mm-hm.

Gietz: ‘Oh, we didn’t realise this would happen,’ and I’m going to come onto these now. In the case of New Zealand, we would be speaking about foreseeable outcomes, because we have the experience from Australia. What’s happened in Australia? In Australia long-term consumption trends which are going down have not been impacted at all. It’s the same graph. It doesn’t fall off a cliff following December 2012.

Fox: Well, that’s not what the Australians show us.

Gietz: That’s number one.

Fox: They tell us that it’s dropped by 14% since the introduction of plain packaging.

Gietz: Well, I am quoting official government statistics.

Fox: And so am I.

Gietz: That’s all I can do. The second thing is that this was meant to primarily – primarily – fight underage smoking. Now, nobody wants people under the age of 18 to smoke. That’s for sure. But the question is – why do they start smoking?

Fox: Wait on.

Gietz: There are many many studies from around the globe that investigate what is it that triggers this interest in that first cigarette. Packaging doesn’t feature. What we’ve seen, however, is a growth in underage smoking by 30% in Australia since December 2012—

Owen: Okay—

Gietz: And if I may just finish, because there’s a cause and link here, we have also seen an increase in illicit trade in tobacco products…

Fox: In Australia?

Gietz: …by almost the same percent in Australia, absolutely.

Owen: We’ll come to the black market issues a bit later, but I just want to talk to you about the evidence that you’re producing there. An independent study that was commissioned by the Australian government says that it did lower the number of people smoking – 100,000 fewer people smoking as a result of plain packaging. That’s got to be good, hasn’t it?

Gietz: Long-term trends are stable, and you must not forget one other element in Australia, which is also already in place in this country. Australia in parallel to the introduction of plain packaging introduced annual tax hikes of 12.5% increases—

Owen: They did, but the research, Mr Gietz—

Gietz: What contributes what when even the long-term trends—

Owen: No, no, the research, Mr Gietz, took that into account.

Gietz: Even under these draconic circumstances—

Fox: Draconic?

Gietz: Draconic. Of course it’s draconic.

Fox: Are you kidding me? Look, you’re a doctor, and that seems to give you some sort of credibility when you work for Imperial Tobacco, but Dr Goebbels was also a doctor. And what I say to you is you are a doctor of death. You are peddling death and destruction and misery on our people.

Owen: All right, let’s keep to the topic at hand. So Mr Gietz is saying that it doesn’t work at all, it doesn’t discourage underage smokers at all.

Fox: That’s not true at all. Of course it discourages underage smokers. Why would Imperial Tobacco pay exorbitant prices to have their brands free right behind the counter, right next to the lollies in a shop? Why do you need to put them there? We had to get legislation into this country to hide that from our children. So if Imperial Tobacco thought that they were not peddling their brand of death to our young people, then they would not be fighting so hard to ensure that they can continue to profit off our death.

Owen: Isn’t that the biggest proof that it is working, because you are spending so much money trying to stop it? Big Tobacco is.

Gietz: No, of course we’re trying to stop it. I explained to you before, and I’m going through it in more detail now. Why do we need our brands? We need our brands to compete with other manufacturers in our industry sector. If the brands are taken away from us and the consumer can only go by price – we can only compete over price. What happens, and any economist will tell you that, is that there’s a downwards spiral. That’s what it’s called – downtrading.

Fox: But all tobacco companies—

Gietz: People go for the ever-cheaper—

Fox: All tobacco companies have the same—

Owen: Let him finish, Mrs Fox.

Gietz: Let me finish my sentence…

Owen: Let him finish.

Gietz: And my line of thought here. Ever-cheaper products are sought by consumers if price is the only point that we can compete on. Now let me tell you one thing. The cheapest product will always be peddled by the criminals because they don’t collect taxes for the government. Of course they have the cheapest product. The other thing, however, is that they sell to children, and that’s where the causal link comes into it. Cigarettes become more accessible and more affordable and therefore underage smoking has risen.

Fox: All right, can you answer a question.

Gietz: It’s as simple as that.

Fox: But here is a question, then. If you know and we can prove that a dairy in West Auckland is selling cigarettes to children illegally, will you remove your cigarettes from those shops?

Gietz: We will absolutely totally support any penalties for retailers that are caught selling to underage people.

Fox: But will Imperial Tobacco, knowing that—

Gietz: Of course we will. Of course we will.

Fox: So you would remove your products from the shops that can be proven to have been selling cigarettes to children?

Gietz: There must be degrees of penalties which should be enshrined in law, so as—

Fox: But if you don’t want them sold to children, you could pull them yourself.

Gietz: The first time they pay a fine, the second time they pay a higher fine, the third time we pull. Of course we do. We support any measures that are effective in fighting underage smoking.

Fox: What self-imposed measures have you got that will take cigarettes out of the hands of children where storekeepers are known to be selling them to those children?

Gietz: Well, let me repeat myself. Any—

Fox: Self-imposed.

Gietz: Any storekeeper that is caught selling these must be penalised, and this should be part of an intelligent law that works. The criminals, however, will never be penalised. They will sell—

Fox: Where’s your evidence in New Zealand of criminal behaviour in the black market selling of cigarettes?

Gietz: We are currently— Well, black market is always criminal and illegal by definition.

Fox: In New Zealand?

Gietz: We are currently talking about the experience in Australia and about the fact that—

Owen: Do you have any evidence relating to New Zealand, Mr Gietz, because the customs department and the police say there’s no indication of organised crime being involved in the illicit tobacco trade here.

Gietz: Yet.. Australia is an isolated continent with a lot of blue water around it. They never needed it. Yeah, they never needed to fight this. It didn’t exist. Last October the Australian Minister for Immigration and Protection of Borders announced with great fanfare that he was putting in place for the first time in history a special task force dedicated to nothing else but fighting, as you call them, the organised crime syndicates

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  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  25th June 2016

    I hate to have to say it, but smokers do choose to smoke. There is a vast amount of help out there for smokers who want to stop that costs nothing. There can be nobody who doesn’t know what it does. If people are burying their smoking relations, that should be the most powerful incentive of all to stop, surely. Marama Fox is making excuses and saying that smokers can’t help it-especially Maori ones. By making excuses for them, she is doing them no favours at all.

    I was once a smoker. I stopped by telling myself that I could go for 24 hours without one. Then another 24, and another….I chewed a lot of chewing gum for a while, and bit a lot of pencils. You can go without anything for 24 hours. Living where the only dairy kept limited hours was a help, as nobody would want to be so feeble that they’d walk as far as I would have had because they wanted a cigarette.

    • Gezza

       /  25th June 2016

      The degree of addiction varies highly among individuals Kitty. In my case I’ve had two addictions and nicotine was by far physically & mentally the strongest and the longest—most of my life. People can’t afford to smoke any more–they are an absolutely unaffordable option for the poor, even for people on middle incomes—and yet they still do.
      And the serious health problems are well-known. What worked for you doesn’t work for others. I had to go cold turkey and just sleep for days. Five times. I lasted 3 months for the first 4 tries, and I’m pig-headed about things so in theory it should’ve been easy for me.

      Every conceivable tactic and assistance should be provided to help smokers stop but you can’t realistically ban them until they’re banned worldwide. Marama needs to bully & abuse the smokers and enablers amongst her own people if she wants to bully anyone about it.

      • Gezza

         /  25th June 2016

        I might add, I started smoking in my teens because my mates grew taller than me for about a year before I caught up. My dad smoked. So did my music heroes and I was already a budding rock musician by then. Smoking was cool and I figured I could just stop when I wanted to. That was one issue Marama verbally thrashed Gietz about and she was right to call him on it. She just went right over the top!

        All anyone has to do is watch & listen to that smug, BS-spouting r-sole and he’d make you want to stop. He wouldn’t even say whether he smokes himself—but I’ll bet he doesn’t.

    • Joe Bloggs

       /  26th June 2016

      @kitty… it’s a little glob to use your own experiences of giving up as some objective measure of will-power… Gezza is quite right. Addiction differs from individual to individual. Like Gezza I’ve struggled for most of my life with tobacco. As addictive as heroin and far easier to obtain, I wish that I’d never started. And it’s taken me years of struggle and many times before I kicked the habit.

      As for Geitz’ comment early on that he doesn’t sell tobacco, he sells taxes? Disingenuous twaddle.

      • Joe Bloggs

         /  26th June 2016

        Yikes…glib, not glob…😳

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  26th June 2016

          I can only know what I did. And I do believe that anyone can do it if they want to badly enough. You can go without anything for 24 hours ! And then another 24….I remember telling myself that I could hold off for that long. Making it finite was a big help. As was suddenly smelling my flat-how had I lived with that foul smell ?-and my clothes. I walked into my flat one night-and smelt it. Non-smoking friends had been going to come in, but it was late so they didn’t, and I was humiliated to think that they would have walked into that stink which I hadn’t noticed before. I don’t know why I suddenly did !

          There is so much free, non-judgemental help available now that everyone must know about it-and one would think that burying relations who’ve died of it would be a huge incentive to stop.

          The only person who can stop you is you, and you have to want to stop for yourself.

          Marama Fox was making excuses, not giving reasons.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  26th June 2016

            I can still remember opening my wardrobe and almost being knocked down by the stink from my clothes-and thinking that I had been walking around smelling like that and hadn’t known it.

            I read about one man who stopped one cigarette at a time-the first one in the morning, the one in the car on the way to work and so on…he knew he couldn’t stop cold turkey, but cutting out the habit ones one at a time worked for him.

            • Nelly Smickers

               /  26th June 2016

            • jamie

               /  26th June 2016

              Yes Kitty I’ve helped someone quit that way. I suggested that they could probably manage skipping the first cig of the day and waiting until they were in the car.

              Then when they were accustomed to that alteration in ritual I suggested that they could probably manage skipping that one and waiting until they were at work.

              And then until morning tea, and then until lunchtime, and within a few weeks they were getting all the way through the workday without lighting up.

              Well once you’ve made it all the way home without one, and the day is almost over, it hardly seems worth starting, does it? 😉

              It won’t work for everyone of course – nothing does – but it can be a good way to attack the ritualistic aspect of the addiction.

  2. Phil O’Reilly on the panel asked if Fox was passionate or out of line:

    Probably out of line, but actually the biggest I thought was Marama was focussing on the wrong thing.

    These guys are going to be there as long as tobacco’s legal. If you want to get rid of them, ban it. You’re not going to do that.

    The best target is to say how we make sure that Maori and Pacific people, in her case, stop smoking. Don’t worry about these other guys.

    Get on with talking to the people that are doing the smoking, the young kids maybe taking it up.

    Educate them. That’s the way to beat these characters. Not by insulting them in a television studio.

    • jamie

       /  25th June 2016

      He does have a point, but it’s a fairly depressing one. It’s like someone is throwing rocks at our kids and all we can do is encourage them to duck. In fact it’s worse, they’ve built a very efficient rock-throwing machine.

      Ultimately I think the sale of tobacco will one day be banned and we’ll look back on all of this as utter insanity. Not a simple process though.

  3. Steve Taylor

     /  25th June 2016

    How odd that a political party that prides itself on sovereignty for their people, is so enthusiastic to remove sovereignty from their people.

    • The intent is fair enough, reducing harm and death, but the method is highly questionable.

    • Blazer

       /  26th June 2016

      how do you figure trying to prevent your people dying is compromising sovereignty?

      • Steve Taylor

         /  26th June 2016

        Fox assumes her “people” are ignorant in their actions.

        How utterly condescending of her “people”, who the Maori Party advocates as having personal sovereignty (but according to Fox’s position, not much wisdom in which to exercise same).

        Either one has personal sovereignty, or one does not.

        Advocate on the evidence, sure, but allow people the sovereignty to make up their own minds, and determine their destiny via personal choice, and then attribute all the outcome and consequence to people as a result of these personal choices.

        Maori don’t need to be rescued – especially by other Maori.

        • Joe Bloggs

           /  26th June 2016

          Typical Neo-liberal claptrap.

        • Corky

           /  26th June 2016

          Especially by ill tempered arrogant Maori.

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  26th June 2016

            It IS a condescending, maternalistic attitude. These are adults, not children, and she ought to treat them as such. Talking about them as if they were children who can’t help themselves is insulting, even if it’s not meant to be. The tobacco is killing people, but the people are smoking the tobacco. Nobody’s forced at gunpoint to smoke. I know Maori people who’ve stopped, despite those around them smoking.

            It’s encouraging that the number of young people smoking has dropped.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  26th June 2016

              In The Darling Buds of May, one of the characters doesn’t smoke because he doesn’t want to get cancer. It was written in 1951, 64 years ago, and it’s a casual remark, not one that is made about something that is a new discovery.

              How long have cigarettes been referred to as coffin nails ? 100 years ?

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  26th June 2016

              1880s. I had thought possibly late c.18,, but hadn’t thought it was that early. People weren’t stupid in the past, they could see what happened to smokers.

            • jamie

               /  26th June 2016

              Why do you think people smoke, Kitty?

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