PM Christopher Luxon’s sister-in-law works for tobacco company

2 February 2024

By Bridie Witton, Stuff

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s sister-in-law works as a trade and marketing coordinator for British American Tobacco, the largest tobacco company in the world, but he says he never discussed tobacco policy with her.

“The Cabinet Office is aware of the connection and I am confident I have complied with the Cabinet Manual,” he said in a statement.

The revelation comes as the National-led coalition government faces increasing pressure over its links with the tobacco industry.

The National-led coalition government has promised to repeal the radical smokefree legislation within its first 100 days. Money raised from tobacco sales will also be used to pay for tax cuts.

NZ First MP Shane Jones said he took “soundings” from tobacco lobbyist and friend, Apirana Dawson, for the party’s tobacco policy. Dawson was a guest at the swearing in ceremony for ministers and was pictured posing with Jones.

Senior Minister Chris Bishop was also a lobbyist for tobacco giant Phillip Morris before becoming a politician, but has said the role doesn’t define him.

Luxon on Thursday said he had his office check with ACT and NZ First about whether anyone had accepted donations from the tobacco industry. It came after days of questions about the minister in charge of smokefree reform, NZ First MP Casey Costello, who was under fire over leaked documents showing she asked officials for advice about freezing the tobacco excise.

“My office spoke to the offices of the other parties to confirm with those parties. And those parties both came back to say that they have not received donations from tobacco companies,“ he said on Tuesday.

Public health researchers have also suggested many of the coalition government’s talking points against smokefree policies are the same as those used by tobacco companies.

Professor Janet Hoek, Prof Richard Edwards, and Associate Professor Andrew Waa– co-directors of ASPIRE Aotearoa Research Centre, and based in Department of Public Health, University of Otago said it was “concerning to see that Government coalition politicians have used similar claims to those made in submissions on the retail reduction policy by tobacco companies and groups that receive tobacco industry-funding,” they wrote in a public health briefing.

“Even more importantly, these examples raise important questions about how tobacco companies’ rhetoric has emerged in explanations offered by coalition politicians when asked to explain repealing the smokefree legislation.“

Professor Boyd Swinburn has said he has never seen a health minister involved with what he described as “anti-health” policies.

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