WELLINGTON: New Zealand’s plans for world-leading anti-smoking laws will be revoked, Christopher Luxon confirmed today after being sworn in as prime minister, in a move described as a “huge win for the tobacco industry”.
Former airline boss Luxon took over six weeks after his conservative National Party won national elections, ending a six-year Labour Party reign ushered in by Jacinda Ardern.
Luxon, 53, was sworn in as head of a new coalition government by New Zealand’s governor-general in a ceremony in the capital Wellington.
“It is an honour and an awesome responsibility,” Luxon told reporters.
The conservative said he would prioritise taming inflation and bringing down interest rates, and also confirmed he would scrap a so-called “generational smoking ban” adopted last year that stops sales of tobacco to anyone born after 2008.
Luxon said the tax revenue from ongoing cigarette sales would generate welcome income for the government, but also voiced concern that the ban would create a flourishing – and untaxed – black market.
The move was criticised by anti-smoking groups as a step back for the country.
“This is a major loss for public health, and a huge win for the tobacco industry, whose profits will be boosted at the expense of Kiwi lives,” the Health Coalition Aotearoa – the Maori name for New Zealand – said in a statement.
The anti-smoking legislation, scheduled to start later this year, was designed to almost immediately reduce the number of people using tobacco products.
While the number of adults smoking in New Zealand is relatively low at just 8%, the previous government had envisioned a future where the country was completely smoke-free.
As well as the steadily increasing age limit, the new law would have slashed the number of retailers able to sell tobacco products to a maximum of just 600 nationwide, a massive drop from the current figure of 6,000.
Originally unveiled by then-PM Ardern and praised by public health experts and anti-smoking advocates, a suite of near-identical measures were recently announced in the UK.
Luxon focused on the need to revive the economy in his remarks today.
“We have to reduce the cost of living and get inflation under control so we can lower interest rates and make food more affordable,” he said.
Luxon said his new government would also focus in its first few months on restoring law and order and improving public services.
The former Labour government struggled to control the rising cost of living, a global issue blamed in part on pandemic-related supply issues and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The previous prime minister, Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins, took over from Ardern in January.
She had unexpectedly resigned, calling an end to her five-year period in office because she no longer had “enough in the tank”.
Luxon said his cabinet would meet over the next two days to determine their plans for the first 100 days in office.
National has also said it wants to crack down on crime, ban cellphones in schools and scrap planned fuel tax hikes.
“A lot of our focus is on tackling the underlying cause of inflation,” Luxon said.
“That means a series of things to make sure we generate savings out of the public service and that government spending is prudent.”
Luxon became the country’s 42nd prime minister following protracted coalition talks that came to an agreement on Friday.
His National party has formed a three-party coalition with the conservative ACT and populist New Zealand First parties to govern in the 123-seat parliament.
In a first for New Zealand, the deputy prime minister role will be shared in two 18-month stints.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, 78, was sworn in alongside Luxon as deputy prime minister, but will hand over the role at the end of May 2025.
He will be replaced by ACT leader David Seymour for the remainder of the three-year parliamentary term.
Luxon, a father of two, is a wealthy teetotaller and lover of country music who rose to prominence when he ran the national airline for seven years before entering politics.