Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has admitted he used an incorrect figure while justifying the scrapping of the previous government’s world-first smokefree legislation.
Earlier this week, Luxon said at his first post-Cabinet media conference as New Zealand’s leader: “We think it’s wrong for example to have a single store in Northland as a target for crime and for ram raids and for gangs and to ultimately drive for a bigger black market.”
One of Luxon’s senior ministers, Chris Bishop, was put on the spot about the claim in a Q+A interview this morning.
In the interview, Bishop first repeated the claim made by Luxon earlier this week, but was then immediately challenged about its accuracy by interviewer Jack Tame.
According to a Health Ministry gazette notice, there would be a maximum of 35 approved tobacco retailers in the Northland region under the law change — not one.
Speaking to media this afternoon, Luxon was pressed about the usage of the figure.
“We got it wrong,” he said.
“What we meant there and the bigger point very clearly is that the actual policy, the previous Labour government announced, would mean there would be a massive concentration of a few outlets.”
Luxon said despite the error in numbers, his “bigger point still holds” regarding his government’s opposition to the world-first changes.
He continued: “We didn’t express it the way that we should’ve.
“There will be towns across Northland, across New Zealand, that only have one or two retail outlets in them, in those towns, and that will be a massive magnet for crime and obviously continue to drive a black market.”
Labour’s health spokesperson and former health minister Ayesha Verrall weighed in on the Q+A interview earlier today. She wrote on X: “Why can’t the government debate the facts of the matter when it comes to smokefree?”
The former Labour government legislation – intended to improve public health – was scrapped to fund tax cuts National promised during the election campaign.
Health experts have been scornful of the move with some estimates that the reforms would have saved lives and billions in health system spending in the long run.