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Spreading the word - NZ duty free tobacco limits have dropped

Spreading the word: NZ duty free tobacco limits have dropped

As a further step towards reducing the harm caused by smoking, the Government reduced New Zealand’s duty free tobacco limits from 200 to 50 cigarettes or cigars, or 50 grams of tobacco, on 1 November 2014. 

Customs is responsible for enforcing this regulation at the border. The challenge was to make travellers aware of the change to the new duty free limit so they could make an informed decision to declare and pay for excess tobacco or abandon it.

Getting the message right was the first step. Shane Panettiere, Manager Border Operations, says "coming up with an eye catching image that clearly communicated the drop in duty-free limits and the penalties for failing to comply was vital."

“We needed to capture travellers’ attention before they reached the Customs area across NZ airports. Two hundred (200) cigarettes is the expected norm elsewhere, so many travellers assume this is New Zealand’s limit and don’t check before they travel.”

“A shopping bag image, the use of the colour red, and a series of symbols that illustrated the drop to 50 cigarettes were selected because they visually communicate the message. It was important to ensure international travellers who can’t read English were able to understand the changes so they could comply with them. Text reinforces the visual message and clearly spells out the change and the consequences for exceeding the limit.” The image and wording were also validated as easy to understand through external focus groups.

The timing of our advertising campaign balanced providing enough advance notice so that people become well aware of the changes without becoming disinterested.

Billboards outside Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch airports, advertising in Air New Zealand’s inflight magazines, in Asian media, online, in airport arrivals areas, and on disposal bins and banners alerted travellers to the change.

To help people calculate the amount of duty they would have to pay, the on line ‘What’s My Duty?’ calculator was rebuilt to include tobacco.

“Customs officers played an important initial and ongoing role, informing travellers of the limit and what they can do with their excess tobacco. A conversation with an officer can help clarify the rules and options travellers have,” Shane says.

Information was translated into a number of languages to assist travellers from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Procedural changes behind the scenes at airports also made it faster and easier for travellers to pay the duty on excess tobacco before they leave the airport. To streamline the process for travellers arriving at our busiest airport, a new Border Agency Service Kiosk was installed at Auckland International Airport adjacent to the x-ray machines.

Additional staff were also employed to deal with the expected increase in collecting and accounting for the abandoned tobacco and duty paid at Auckland Airport and the International Mail Centre.      

“Many travellers first become aware of the new duty free limit when completing the Passenger Arrival Card.  For others it is not until they see billboards, signs and disposal bins at airports that they become aware. A small number of travellers are too pre-occupied with getting off the plane and out of the airport to notice at all.”

“All indications are that things are going very well. Over 350 kgs of tobacco were abandoned and destroyed in the six weeks following the drop in the duty free limit. By 31 March 2015 a total of 2,292 kgs and 4,682 items of tobacco had been abandoned. Since November the number of travellers with excess tobacco has continued to fall each month, showing the message is getting through.”

“Our officers are often praised for being friendly, helpful and patient, with criticisms generally directed at the tobacco restrictions, not the process for dealing with it.”