/ 1 June 2012

Cigarette ‘offer’ raises council’s ire

A Cigarette manufacturer could face a fine of up to R1-million for possibly violating regulations that govern the marketing of cigarettes.
A Cigarette manufacturer could face a fine of up to R1-million for possibly violating regulations that govern the marketing of cigarettes.

The National Council Against Smoking claims that marketing material that prompted retailers to pass on promotional information to consumers fell foul of the regulations, which JT International denies.

A decision to fine the company rests with the department of health, but it did not respond to questions.

Peter Ucko, a director of the council, said it believed the marketing material was a contravention for several reasons. For example, a small blue plastic sheet advised retailers of Camel: “Remember to ask your adult smokers: ‘Have you heard about the new Camel Activate pack-and-lighter offer?” The pack and lighter is sold for R35. On the back of the sheet is the message: “Thank you for shopping at our store”, which is what the consumer should see.

However, at the retailer where the Mail & Guardian saw the marketing material, the sheet was on the counter for all consumers to view.

Not aimed at the public
The marketing sheet also states in small print at the bottom: “This communication contains information exclusively for the tobacco trade and is not aimed at the public.”

Ucko said this amounted to advertising and the penalty could be up to R1-million. “It doesn’t matter that they might say it was for trade only to tell them to ask customers. It fell into the hands of a member of the public and is advertising.”

He said that the words “lights variant” used in the material were also problematic, because misleading descriptions were prohibited and the word “light” gave the impression that the cigarettes were safer than, or not as harmful as, other full-flavour cigarettes.

Ucko said packaging a box of cigarettes with a lighter appeared to be offering a discount. “They can’t give away free gifts or anything at a discount other than a trade discount. So if the normal price of a pack of these cigarettes is, say, R30 and the lighter is worth R20, then it looks like a discount or an inducement to buy cigarettes to get the lighter, which is not permitted in our opinion.”

Great lengths
JT’s corporate affairs and communications manager for Southern Africa, Elaine McKay, said the company went to great lengths to ensure compliance with all local legislation.
“The communication in question was aimed specifically at the trade and the trade is instructed that this may not be further distributed to consumers,” she said. “The purpose of the communication to the trade is to enhance their understanding of the product and to allow them to address legitimate questions from adult consumers.”

She said she believed the law did not prohibit this form of communication. “The use of the words ‘lights variant’ in the trade communication was to educate the trade about the tar and nicotine level of the product and is therefore not misleading.”

Referring to the R35 offer, McKay said the retailer made a significant margin on the product and lighter, so it did not represent a discount to the consumer.