Smokefree laws: Prime Minister Christopher Luxon admits blunder on tobacco store numbers

Christopher Luxon has admitted miscounting the number of tobacco stores that would have been allowed under smokefree legislation. 

Since taking power, the new National-led Government has announced it would repeal New Zealand's smokefree laws - including axing plans for a reduction in retailers. 

Speaking at his first post-Cabinet media conference, Prime Minister Luxon claimed this would have led to the remaining tobacco stores being targeted. 

"It's obvious, we just don't think that having a single store in Northland, being a target for gangs and driving into a bigger black market is actually a good idea," he said. 

But according to Health Coalition Aotearoa, there would actually be 18 tobacco retailers in the Northland region. 

Speaking at a standup on Sunday, Luxon acknowledged National had "got that wrong". 

"What we meant and the bigger point very clearly is that the actual policy the previous Labour Government announced would mean there would be a massive concentration of a few outlets," he told media. 

"There will be towns across Northland, across New Zealand, that only have one or two retail outlets in them, in those towns, and that will be a massive magnet for crime and obviously drive a black market." 

Luxon said he didn't think he had misled New Zealand by using the wrong figure, instead stating "we expressed it incorrectly". 

"We got it wrong and as I said we could have expressed it better. What I meant to say is there will be one or two outlets in any given town across New Zealand," he said. 

"[It] doesn't change a thing. The bigger point still holds that actually the reason why we opposed the legislation at the time is - and remember it hasn't taken effect, it's come into law but it hasn't taken effect - was simply to say we think that's the wrong way to go about it. 

"Limiting distribution in that way, concentrating it in a few retail outlets, makes those stores a real magnet for crime, particularly in small towns up and down New Zealand - and importantly will drive into a black market." 

Luxon said he understood there would be around 18 stores in rural Northland, and about 17 stores in identified towns across Northland - around 35 in total. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaking on Sunday.
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon speaking on Sunday. Photo credit: Newshub

The new Government's plans to scrap smokefree legislation will help pay for the tax cuts National campaigned on

Incoming Finance Minister Nicola Willis told Newshub Nation last month the restrictions "would significantly reduce revenue to the Crown". 

"We have to remember that the changes to the smoke-free legislation had a significant impact on the Government books - with about $1 billion there," Willis told Newshub Nation

Appearing after Willis, incoming Regulation Minister David Seymour said he believed the smokefree laws would force tobacco onto the black market. 

"What is now going to happen is all those dairy owners as part of their revenue - all of those people who are law-abiding and don't break any other rules - can continue to buy [cigarettes] and the Government can continue to tax it. 

"I think that's a more realistic solution than what the previous Government was headed towards." 

But the Government's plans are being condemned by health experts, with some calling it "vile" and "devastating".

"I'm incredibly shocked and embarrassed for New Zealand," said Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ chief executive Letitia Harding. 

"That we're actually going to collect revenue from an excise tax from a product known to kill people is just a ludicrous statement to make."  

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chair Lisa Te Morenga said it will cost Māori lives. 

"I was devastated. It was like a kick to the stomach," she told Newshub. "Tax cuts for the rich at the cost of the lives of our tamariki is just vile."