Peter Fogarty on Thu, 25 May 2000 00:25:41 +0200 (CEST)

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[Nettime-bold] Is there any precedent for this?

Cigar Website off limits for Kiwis

24.05.2000 - 9:30 am - By MICHAEL FOREMAN and HERALD ONLINE STAFF
The Ministry of Health has been accused of censoring the Internet after it
instructed an Auckland cigar shop to restrict New Zealanders' access to its

While overseas surfers may freely browse the Havana House Cigars site, New
Zealanders are being asked to view a message from the proprietor telling
them it is illegal to peruse the rest of the site. Whether they choose to
heed the warning, however, is up to them.

The owner of Havana House, Tony Hart, said he was instructed to block local
users after the ministry told him the Website was considered to be a tobacco
advertisement as defined by the Smokefree Environments Act 1990. He says he
was told he could face a fine of $50,000 if he failed to take action.

When Mr Hart argued that the Internet was an international medium and users
could not be blocked selectively, the ministry disagreed.

Mr Hart says the Website is hosted in Chicago, and exists mainly to serve
his overseas customers. Orders placed through the site account for 60 to 70
per cent of his total business.

He says he will have a censored version of the site online in 2-3 weeks, to
which New Zealanders will automatically be redirected. They will be able to
view product names and prices - but no descriptions, something the Ministry
of Health considers to be tobacco promotion.

New Zealanders may well find it overwhelming, and he expects he will have to
do a lot more explaining when people come into the shop or ring his 0800

"We have many customers who want to give up cigarettes and take up cigars.
When you have 450 types of cigar, it is very labour-intensive to explain the
differences to customers," Mr Hart said.

Ministry official Sally Gilbert told Mr Hart that she knew of other sites
blocking New Zealand users and offered to put him in touch with a Web
company that could arrange it.

Lawyer Paul Dale, who has handled Internet cases and who is also a cigar
smoker, said he had only a peripheral involvement with the case so could not
give a legal opinion.

However, he said that if the case did come to court "some fairly serious
arguments would be raised."

Ministry staff were last night preparing an explanation for the Herald.
Mr Hart says he has already been forced by the Ministry to remove the
picture of a cigar from his shop sign, and to stop providing books and
magazines related to cigars. His latest row with the Ministry of Health
could have a silver lining "worth a couple of million dollars in publicity,"
especially if overseas media decide to report that the New Zealand
government wants to restrict access to a Website.

He says he has also received about 20 e-mail messages of support from New
Zealanders this morning.

Havana House Cigars

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