One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies has caused a furore by using the Maori name in a brand of cigarettes.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris produces the l and M Maori mix brand overseas and now there are calls for them to be withdrawn.

The Maori mix cigarettes were discovered in Jerusalem, Israel, by a New Zealander, who was so shocked she immediately reported her discovery to the Maori Smoke Free Coalition.

Coalition director Shane Bradbrook says he is shocked by the brand name.

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“What amazed me was it wasn’t here in our back yard they’ve misappropriated our cultural name and labelled it on something that kills four million people a year.”

Smoking is the single biggest killer of Maori people claiming on average between 650 and 1,000 lives each year, but this is the first time in history the Maori name name has actually been used to brand tobacco.

Previously, Maori images have been hijacked to promote smoking but that practice was stamped out decades ago.

Public Health Association NZ manager Noeline Holt says this is the most blatant abuse of Maori culture to promote smoking to date.

“On the packet you’ll see what looks like date palms or something like a south seas picture to me and in my view that’s saying ‘oh it’s safe and green and clean’.”

There have been many battles over Maori intellectual property rights in recent years and lawyer Maui Solomon argues this is a cultural invasion that no one should tolerate.

“This is one of the worst extremes, I guess, of how Maori knowledge is being abused and misused.”

Maori Party co leader Pita Sharples says he is angry about the news.

“My reaction is disgust, disappointment. You know I’m really angry. I guess as a first step the cigarettes I think definitely have to be removed from sale. I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to authorise that. But it’s definitely got to be done.”

Phillip Morris, the company that makes the cigarettes, has so far been unavailable for comment.

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