Tobacco researcher says PM hasn't given logical explanation for why New Zealand isn't doing everything to lower smoking rates

A leading tobacco researcher says the Prime Minister still hasn't come up with a single logical explanation about why New Zealand isn't doing everything it can to lower smoking rates.  

It comes amid revelations the Associate Health Minister was urged by her officials not to scrap a number of smokefree laws.  

The Government is on the defensive, with Prime Minister Christopher Luxon saying: "We're going to continue to drive down smoking rates for Māori and non-Māori."  

Though the Deputy Prime Minister had more important things to do. Winston Peters was caught on a phone call in the House.  

Labour leader Chris Hipkins asked if the rules around talking on phones had changed or "whether in fact the tobacco lobby should wait until after Question Time to contact the Deputy Prime Minister with their feedback".  

Peters called that a "disgraceful insinuation, especially for someone who is going to be out of this House within a few weeks".  

It was revealed on Tuesday that health officials urged their minister not to scrap a number of smokefree laws.  

Associate Health Minister Casey Costello said there was a "substantial black market for cigarettes and crime attached to tobacco retailing".    

But that argument is exactly what health officials warned about.  

In a briefing obtained by RNZ they said: "A common tobacco industry tactic is to assert that tobacco policies will increase an illicit market."  

Asked if she acknowledged that was a line tobacco companies use, she said: "I don't know what lines tobacco companies use, I haven't been speaking to tobacco companies." 

The briefing also showed Costello rejected a number of compromises put to her.   

So instead of reducing the number of retailers to 600 stores, the Government could consider a higher cap or a sinking lid policy. Rejected.  

The minister was also pitched banning cigarette sales near schools. Rejected.  

Instead of reducing nicotine levels to 0.8mg/g, the government could consider limiting it to 1.3mg/g. Rejected.  

And instead of totally scrapping the smokefree generation, officials proposed banning sales to under-25s. Rejected.   

"I would just say to you we are going back to the legislation that existed literally a month or so before the election, that has driven another 2 points off our daily smoking rates in the last year," said Luxon.  

Janet Hoek from Aspire Aotearoa said: "So far he hasn't come up with a single logical explanation for why we don't simply do as much as we can to drive smoking prevalence down as quickly as we can."  

Costello was asked what the point was of receiving advice if she doesn't listen to it.  

"I do, you've received one leaked paper. I have received numerous papers and I am continuing to seek advice to get the best advice we can," Costello said.  

Whether she'll listen to that advice is another matter.