The new government is “deeply committed to lowering smoking rates in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says.
It aims to repeal legislation restricting the sale of tobacco to anyone born after 2009 and the phasing in of low-nicotine cigarettes.
Labour’s health spokesperson Dr Ayesha Verrall has accused Luxon of misleading the public after he wrongly said there would only be one tobacco outlet in Northland under the legislation. Documents from the director-general of health say there would be 35.
Luxon told Morning Report on Monday his team got the numbers wrong and they had been spoken to about fact-checking their information.
“Our team meant to say one outlet… in a town across Northland but we got it wrong. What I’ve said is look, we got that wrong. We’ve spoken to our team about making sure that we are fact-checking all of our information before we go off with statements and actually are they… supported.”
Luxon said they wanted to ensure there were really robust processes in place.
The bigger point, he said, was “concentrating distribution into 600 outlets across New Zealand will mean that there will be towns that will have one or two outlets only”.
“We do believe that that will become a massive magnet for crime and we also believe that it will drive more of the market into the black market as well.”
There was a massive increase in retail crime and ram raids under the previous government, he said.
A group of Northland doctors have written to Health Minister Dr Shane Reti to voice their concerns about the plan, saying it was anti-health.
Asked what he had to say to health professionals who had concerns about the repeal, Luxon said his government would be continuing efforts to lower smoking rates.
Smoking rates had declined in the past 30 years, he said.
Asked if he had evidence the government’s plan would stop as many people smoking as the status quo, Luxon said: “I’m not sure that the previous Labour government’s approach had a guaranteed model of how it would reduce [rates].”