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Tobacco Companies Could be Liable in New Zealand

Hon Phillida Bunkle
Minister of Consumer Affairs

Media release
16 April 2000

Tobacco Companies Could be Liable in New Zealand

“I am shocked at new evidence that suggests New Zealand consumers have been victims of cold blooded, deliberate and systematic deception by the world’s leading tobacco companies about the risks of tobacco use,” said Consumer Affairs Minister Phillida Bunkle.

Speaking from Canberra, Phillida Bunkle said she had been provided with documents released by tobacco companies under orders from US courts. The documents contain information which are to be aired tonight on New Zealand's television programme 60 minutes.

“The Fair Trading Act explicitly prohibits deceptive or misleading trade practices. From the evidence I have seen it appears there has been deception on an unprecedented scale.

"Therefore legal action and remedy under the Fair Trading Act may well be possible. I would be very pleased if New Zealand could recover the billions of dollars smoking has cost our country.

“The correspondence, diary notes and meeting minutes included in the evidence record a secret gathering of the chairmen of seven major tobacco companies at Shockerwick House, Berkshire in June of 1977. The companies clearly knew of the health risks of smoking and set out to confound public understanding of these facts and reassure smokers by creating doubt about the evidence.

“These companies appear to have implemented a secret and systematic campaign to deceive the public and coerce politicians in what was called Operation Berkshire. A subset of this campaign was Operation Mayfly which aimed to confuse the public debate and access key public figures.

“New Zealand and Australia appear to have been selected as guinea pigs for Operation Mayfly. The companies apparently created a template for disinformation campaigns the world over based on the New Zealand Australia model.”

Phillida Bunkle met yesterday with South Australian Health Minister, Hon Dean Brown and a tobacco litigation expert to discuss the evidence and possible legal action. On Friday, she discussed the matter with South Australian Attorney General, Hon Trevor Griffin.

“The view in Australia is that New Zealand is well positioned to take quick action against the tobacco companies on this matter. On my return I will be briefing the Government on the implications of this evidence with respect to possible action under the Fair Trading Act.”


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