Call for Luxon to replace Costello over cigarette tax freeze

25 Jan, 2024 | Media Release

Health Coalition Aotearoa is calling for Prime Minister Christopher Luxon to replace Associate Minister for Health Casey Costello with someone who can restore credibility to the portfolio following news she is seeking to freeze excise tax on cigarettes for three years.

“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,” HCA co-chair Professor Boyd Swinburn said.

“The Prime Minister needs to take urgent action to restore credibility to this portfolio.”

RNZ’s Guyon Espiner revealed Costello proposed a three-year freeze on inflation-adjusted excise tax increases for smoked tobacco products and plans to cut tax from smokeless tobacco products.

Costello denied she had made this request, despite clear evidence of her proposal.

Espiner’s piece also highlighted NZ First’s strong links to the tobacco industry.

Costello has had recent links to the Tobacco Industry in her work with the Taxpayer’s Union – which media reported receives regular donations from British American Tobacco.

She stepped down from her role as chair and board member of the Taxpayer’s Union in July 2023, after several years with the organisation.

Freezing excise tax without implementing a reduction in retailers, denicotisation (part of the 2022 Smokefree Amendment Act), and increasing the capacity of quit services – all part of the Smokefree 2025 action plan – will ensure that smoking harm continues to disproportionately affect Māori.

HCA Smokefree Expert Advisory Group co-chair and recipient of the 2019 Tariana Turia Award for significant achievement in indigenous tobacco control Sue Taylor (Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu) said keeping the price of cigarettes high was among the most effective and proven ways to reduce smoking rates.

“As someone who has worked in tobacco control for over two decades the annual tax increases have always driven smoking declines. Whanau say to me all the time, I gave up smoking because it became too expensive.”

Taylor said the proposal to stop annual inflation increases on cigarettes would help the Tobacco Industry and result in the loss of more lives to smoking.

“At the end of the day, most families where someone is smoking will forego tobacco to make sure they can pay the power bill, they can pay the rent and so stopping these increases will encourage people to keep smoking.”

Fellow HCA Smokefree Expert Advisory Group co-chair Leitu Tufuga, National Tobacco Control Advocacy Service Lead at Hapai te Hauora – a Māori public health NGO, said the Government’s actions would only harm Māori further.

“Removing the tax on heated tobacco products privileges the tobacco industry – but these products are also harmful due to the high nicotine content.”

“It’s outrageous that Māori lives continue to be sacrificed in favour of Tobacco Industry profits.”

Tufuga said New Zealand already has a law that would improve health outcomes for Māori, save thousands of lives and eliminate the harm of tobacco for the next generation.

“If the Government is really invested in improving health outcomes for Māori, forging ahead with the implementation of the Smokefree Amendment Act is the best way to achieve that.”

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