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War Economy

Tobacco and Cigarette Making

Tobacco and Cigarette Making

During the war, the tobacco and cigarette making industry in New Zealand took over most of the local market from the pre-war overseas suppliers of manufactured tobacco and cigarettes. The number of cigarettes made in New Zealand more than doubled between 1938–39 and 1941–42. The industry was to continue to strengthen its position for the remaining war years and to hold the bulk of the market after the war.

This expansion was not entirely an effect of war. In its 1939 report,1 issued before the outbreak of war, the Department of Industries and Commerce had said: ‘It is the policy of the Government to develop both the growing and manufacture of tobacco in New Zealand, and further steps have been taken by the Government to this end during the past year. Chief of these perhaps is the Government's policy of import control and selection. By a progressive curtailment of imports of manufactured tobacco and cigarettes, and by the utilization of a progressively larger quantity of New Zealand leaf, it is hoped that the industry will continue to grow in influence and importance year by year.’

Progressively this policy was intensified. The original reasons for it were soon supported by new justifications arising out of the war. In its 1941 report2 the Department of Industries and Commerce wrote:

‘Efforts have been made to bring about a substantial expansion in production during the 1940–41 and future seasons, this being both desirable and necessary, having regard to war conditions, to the possibility of interruption of supplies of leaf from America, and to the necessity for conserving sterling funds. Certain recommendations were recently made by the Board to the Government in connection with the possibility of expanding the production of leaf. The Board made a recommendation that, with a view to

1 Parliamentary Paper H–44, p. 29.

2 Parliamentary Paper H–44, p. 18. The Board mentioned was the Tobacco Board.

page 174 ensuring that at least 20 per cent of the total leaf used by each manufacturer will consist of New-Zealand-grown leaf, the Government introduce regulations to provide that as from a fixed date, say 1st January 1941, individual manufacturers may not clear from bond for entry into manufacture imported leaf exceeding four times the quantity of New-Zealand-grown leaf used in manufacture by them during a period of six months following that date. The Government has since given effect to a recommendation by the Board that the minimum percentage of twenty be raised to 22½ per cent during the period of six months commencing 1st July 1941. The Government expects manufacturers to use New Zealand leaf to a maximum and not necessarily to restrict themselves to the minimum of 22½ per cent which has been decided upon.’

This policy was effective in increasing the New Zealand-grown content of local manufacture. In the three years 1938–39 to 1940–41, 30 per cent of tobacco used was grown in New Zealand; in the next three years the proportion was 35 per cent and, in the three years 1944–45 to 1946–47, 40 per cent. Government policy was to be even more effective in increasing the amount of local processing of cigarettes and tobacco smoked in New Zealand. Local production of cigarettes averaged 600 million a year in the three years 1938–39 to 1940–41, being then over twice that of the preceding three years. From 1941–42 to 1943–44 it averaged over 1000 million, and from 1944–45 to 1946–47 nearly 1200 million.

Expansion of production was aided by the decision of the Minister of Industrial Manpower, in August 1942,1 to declare the industry essential. Numbers employed increased by 40 per cent in the first three years of war, but declined a little in the later war years. Just over 1000 persons were employed in 1943–44, more than three-quarters being women.

Throughout the war, the supply of labour to tobacco factories was one of the more difficult problems confronting the National Service Department. The position, in the Wellington area, particularly, became acute in 1943, with the pool of available female labour almost exhausted. Women had to be directed to tobacco factories from other areas, and there was soon a very vocal opposition from a section of the public to the direction of girls to what it considered a luxury trade. Equally vocal, however, were larger sections of the public which found that shortages of female labour for tobacco factories threatened their supplies of cigarettes and tobacco. Consequently, the tobacco industry and the supply of labour to it attracted a disproportionate share of publicity.

1 Declaration No. 110 in New Zealand Gazette of 6 August, amended in Gazette of 4 February 1943.

page 175

In the circumstances, it is interesting to record that direction of labour for tobacco and cigarette manufacture was, in large measure, successful. An employer wrote:1

‘Directed girls gave excellent service and, almost without exception, worked as well as voluntary labour. They performed semi-skilled work and quickly became proficient. Most of the girls stayed with us when the manpower controls were withdrawn, although some of them have since left us, in most cases because of marriage. In the ordinary course absenteeism was, if anything, lower with directed girls residing at the hostels as compared with local girls. After public holidays the rate was higher with directed girls, due no doubt to their inability to travel to their homes and return within prescribed limits. It must be remembered that most of these girls were directed to us from all parts of the North Island. With few exceptions directed girls worked willingly and cheerfully and appeared to accept philosophically their direction into industry during the wartime emergency.’

1 W. D. and H. O. Wills. The firm, in 1963, still had two women on its staff who were directed there during the war.