Smokefree laws: Luxon admits he doesn't know how many lives could be lost by scrapping regulations

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has revealed he doesn't know how many lives will be lost by the Government's decision to repeal smokefree regulations.

Luxon's first week in the top job wasn't exactly plain sailing, with the Prime Minister coming under fire for his decision to repeal world-leading smokefree regulations and ended with him being forced to admit his Government got it wrong when claiming there would've been one tobacco retailer in Northland, which would've become a target for criminals.

The decision by the National-ACT-NZ First Coalition to ditch Labour's laws to phase out smoking has hit headlines around the world.

It's prompted some health experts and the Opposition, who have described it as a backwards step, to fiercely criticise the Government.

Luxon joined AM on Monday morning for his first interview on the show as Prime Minister and was grilled about the Government's decision to repeal the regulations.

Luxon was asked by AM co-host Ryan Bridge if he could say how many lives could be lost from the decision to repeal the regulations.

"Again, that's not been our approach," he replied.

"What we're wanting to do is to continue to actually make sure we lower smoking over the coming years and decades as we have done over the last few. Eight percent of New Zealanders now smoke regularly or daily, that's halved over the space of just 10 years... we just don't agree with the Government's policy and the way that it was going to go about it." 

Bridge asked Luxon if he had asked for information on how many lives could be lost by repealing the regulations and the Prime Minister revealed he hadn't asked.

"What I have focussed on though is actually realising that concentrating distribution to 600 outlets across the whole of New Zealand means in some towns you'll have one or two outlets only that will become a massive magnet for crime. We see it already that dairies are taking in the neck each and every day we don't want to exacerbate that," he said.

The discussion then moved onto whether Luxon would consider using parts of Labour's legislation in the future.

Luxon has been very critical about the part of Labour's legislation that would've seen a reduction in retail outlets allowed to sell tobacco.

Bridge asked Luxon if he would consider using other parts of the legislation or had New Zealand First leader Winston Peters "specifically stopped you from doing that".

"No, not at all. We'll continue to drive smoking rates down here in New Zealand and I've seen various reports we're going backwards on our legislation. We're not going backwards, we're just not taking forward what the Government delivered before the election," he replied.

"We don't believe it's going to be easy to discriminate between a 36 and a 35-year-old who can or can't smoke into the future."

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon. Photo credit: AM

But Bridge was quick to hit back at the Prime Minister saying it works to discriminate for people aged under 18 through an ID check.

"I just think it's pretty difficult to sort of manage going forward, but the major reason is that limiting distribution creates a black market and ultimately will create more crime," Luxon said. 

The Government has promised to repeal the amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act during its first 100 days in office.

National, ACT and NZ First's coalition documents signed last month revealed the new Government would repeal the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Amendment Act 2022. That law, which passed its third reading in Parliament in last December, included denicotisation requirements, a reduction in retail outlets allowed to sell tobacco and a ban on smoking for future generations.

Watch the full interview above for more.