Associate Health Minister Casey Costello's proposed tobacco tax freeze slammed by health experts, politicians

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello is proposing a three year freeze on tobacco tax.
Associate Health Minister Casey Costello is proposing a three year freeze on tobacco tax. Photo credit: Getty Images

Story by RNZ

Anti-smoking advocates and politicians are taking aim at Associate Health Minister Casey Costello after RNZ revealed she was looking into a three-year freeze on a tobacco tax.

Currently, tobacco excise is increased each year in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). RNZ has learned Costello is proposing a three-year freeze on CPI-related excise increases for smoked tobacco.

But when RNZ put that to her in an interview, Costello said she had not looked at it.

Former Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said Costello needed to clear the air about what was going on.

"Her story doesn't add up. There's a discrepancy between her claim that she did not seek specific advice on stopping the inflation adjustment tobacco excise and reporting by RNZ that she signed off a decision paper asking for that advice.

"So she needs to come clean, release the paper in question, and clear the matter up."

Health Coalition Aotearoa co-chairperson Boyd Swinburn said Costello needed to be stripped of her duties.

"Casey Costello has lost all credibility as an Associate Minister of Health. Everything she has done to date is anti-health - in fact she is acting more like a minister for the tobacco industry," Swinburn said.

"The prime minister needs to take urgent action to restore credibility to this portfolio."

Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) Ben Youden said the proposal simply did not make much sense.

"Given the finance minister has stated last year that tobacco tax is an important revenue, it seems odd that a freeze on excise tax would be on the table."

However, Youden said prices on tobacco needed to walk a fine line between deterring smokers and not financially hindering those addicted.

Costello has also proposed removing the excise tax from smokeless tobacco products, where the tobacco is heated to a vapour rather than burned.