Experts detail swathe of possible connections between Coalition Government politicians and tobacco industry; David Seymour responds

A group of public health experts are calling for transparency from the Government after they found many similarities in the rhetoric used by tobacco companies and the Coalition.  

Public health Professor Janet Hoek, alongside co-authors from the University of Otago, released an article documenting possible channels of influence and similarities between the rhetoric used by the Coalition Government and the tobacco lobby.    

They say it "makes it timely to remind politicians of their" obligations under the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).  

FCTC includes clauses to protect policymaking from tobacco industry interference - which has been ratified by New Zealand - meaning it's critical the G free from interference.     

Article 5.3 of the FCTC requires governments to "interact with tobacco companies only as required for regulatory purposes", as acknowledged on the New Zealand Ministry of Health's website.

The University of Otago group extensively documents potential channels of influence between influential Coalition politicians and the tobacco industry.     

Casey Costello, the Minister of Health Responsible for Tobacco, previously chaired the Taxpayers' Union board - which has previously received funding from British American Tobacco - and has links with the Atlas Network, which has also received tobacco industry funding

Finance Minister Nicola Willis was previously the board director for New Zealand Initiative, a think tank which lists British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands Australasia as members.    

Chris Bishop, who is ranked third on the National Party list, was formerly the corporate affairs manager for Philip Morris New Zealand.  

Apirana Dawson, who is now Philip Morris' director of external affairs and communications, used to be deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters' director of operations.      

David Broome, listed as the the manager of external relations for Philip Morris, used to be chief of staff for Peters office.

Prof Hoek's group is calling for MPs to "declare any past associations with tobacco companies and request them to publicly commit to meeting all requirements the FCTC places on them and their staff".    

PM Christopher Luxon and Health Minister Shane Reti have argued the smoke-free legislation would have driven up crime and a cigarette black market would emerge.    

This same argument was also put forward by Imperial Brands Australasia - which argues crimes such as violent robbery and assaults "will only intensify if the number of businesses selling tobacco is reduced significantly.     

"Those left retailing tobacco will become more attractive targets to gangs due their larger stock holdings."    

British American Tobacco has released similar messaging: "Such a swift and drastic reduction will deliver several concerning outcomes… A smaller and more attractive list of 500 retailers for ram raids and robberies."  

Luxon, Dr Reti, and Regulation Minister David Seymour have all argued the denicotinisation of cigarettes will lead to an increased black market and help fund gangs.    

Imperial Brands Australasia and Japan Tobacco Inc said similar with the latter claiming, "the profits made from the illegal trade are also known to fund other activities such as terrorism and people trafficking which harm all of society".    

Luxon and Costello claimed the smoke-free generation policy would be too difficult to implement, an argument also raised by Japan Tobacco Inc, Imperial Brands Australasia, and British American Tobacco.    

The University of Otago group questions how tobacco companies' rhetoric has emerged in explanations offered by Coalition politicians asked to explain repealing the smoke-free legislation.     

Support for smoke-free legislation is very high; 67 percent of people polled in a recent survey supported or strongly supported retaining this legislation.     

"When the Government is clearly out of sync with public opinion, people are entitled to know what influences are shaping policy," Prof Hoek said.    

Asked about the possible connections on Thursday, Luxon said the Coalition has increased excise taxes in line with previous Governments.  

He said Costello is determined to reduce smoking rates across New Zealand.     

RNZ revealed Costello sent notes to health officials on reforming smoke-free laws which show the idea for a freeze on the excise tax was hers, contradicting her claim she had not sought advice on freezing the excise on cigarettes.  

She also likened the harmfulness of nicotine to caffeine.  

In the house on Thursday, Costello said her actions had been distorted by the RNZ article.    

Asked whether she was the right person for the role, Luxon said Costello was "very determined to now deal with the 6.8 percent of New Zealanders who are daily smokers.  "She's very determined to lower smoking rates across New Zealand," he said.     

He also claimed the Government has "incredibly good disclosure" of "perceived or real conflicts of interest mechanisms in place".    

"We do try to make our politicians accessible to make sure they are engaging with their sectors but that is not an excuse to say the tobacco industry should be inputting deeply into your policy development," Luxon said.    

As the acting Prime Minister on Thursday, Seymour told the House that he had received assurances from all Coalition partners they had taken no funding from the tobacco industry and added there had been "no undue influence" from anyone in the industry on Government policies.