Accusations fired as Willie Jackson, Paul Goldsmith clash over tobacco legislation

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Labour MP Willie Jackson got into a heated exchange over the Government's changes to Smoke-Free legislation on Friday morning. 

The pair were appearing on AM's political panel on Friday when accusations started flying as the two clashed over the Government scrapping changes to the Smoke-Free legislation.

The exchange stemmed from questions about the recent scandal involving Associate Health Minister and NZ First MP Casey Costello. 

Costello has been under fire in Parliament after claiming she had not sought advice on freezing the excise on cigarettes for three years, despite a Health Ministry document saying she had. Documents have also emerged revealing she likened nicotine harm to caffeine.

In response to questions on whether Costello is doing the tobacco industry's lobbying, he said "We can quite clearly say she is not".

"There's been a lot of confusion and misinformation recently. You talk to people and they think the Government has completely dropped the Smoke-Free legislation – that's not the case at all. We are continuing with the legislation that's worked very well over the last few years," Goldsmith told AM co-host Lloyd Burr.

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has been under fire in Parliament recently.
Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has been under fire in Parliament recently. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Government's latest New Zealand Health Survey results show the rate of daily smoking was 6.8 percent in 2022/23, down from 8.6 percent the previous year. Goldsmith said the country is on track to reach the goal of only five percent of people smoking regularly.

"What we are not going to do is the excessive extra things that the previous Government of Willie Jackson was going to do and so we've scrapped that. The fundamental laws that we've had in place for a number of years now are working well and that's what we're continuing to do," Goldsmith said.

However, Jackson said Costello should be fired because she has been "spinning stories in Parliament".

"She's doing the bidding of the tobacco companies, absolutely no doubt about it… This Government is tainted with tobacco companies."

Jackson's comments were referring to National Minister Chris Bishop who used to be a lobbyist for the tobacco company Phillip Morris.

"Goldie you know, and I know, this is an embarrassment. You're totally tainted by the tobacco companies and people are asking questions about funding," Jackson said.

"Willie's always somewhat fast and loose with the actual words that he uses," Goldsmith replied.

"Who do you agree with Lloyd?" Jackson hit back.

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Labour MP Willie Jackson joined AM on Friday.
Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith and Labour MP Willie Jackson joined AM on Friday. Photo credit: AM

Goldsmith said to look at the basics – the Government is trying to reduce smoking rates and that is happening. 

"Willie's on the TV talking complete nonsense saying that we are scrapping the Smoke-Free laws, we're not," he said.

"Hang on, that's an embarrassment to New Zealanders Goldie, you already know this. We've got worldwide acclaimed legislation, these guys are throwing it out. It's a disgrace," Jackson replied.

The Coalition Government repealed amendments to the Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products Act 1990 to fund tax cuts.

The Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act (SERPA) was passed by the previous Labour Government in 2022.

It would have taken cigarettes out of most dairies, lowered the nicotine levels in cigarettes, and denied sales to anyone born after January 1,  2009.