Prime Minister Christopher Luxon’s sister-in-law works for the largest tobacco company in the world but he says he has “never discussed tobacco policy with her”.
Luxon’s sister-in-law has worked as a trade and marketing coordinator at British American Tobacco NZ for 19 years, according to her LinkedIn profile.
“The Cabinet Office is aware of the connection, and I am confident I have complied with the Cabinet Manual,” the prime minister said in a statement.
A spokesperson for British American Tobacco NZ said that the company has a “strict standards of business conduct policy” requiring disclosure of any personal or family relationships by employees that could lead to conflict of interest.
“If required, conditions will be put in place.”
It comes amid increased scrutiny over the National-led coalition government’s alleged links with the tobacco industry.
The Government promised to repeal the world-first smokefree legislation within its first 100 days — a move widely criticised by health organisations.
Money raised from tobacco sales would be used to pay for tax cuts, Finance Minister Nicola Willis said at the time.
Yesterday Labour’s health spokesperson Ayesha Verrall called for Associate Health Minister Casey Costello to be sacked over her motives for easing tax on tobacco products.
In an interview with RNZ, Costello denied specifically seeking out advice from her ministry on freezing the excise. This conflicted with a Health Ministry document obtained by RNZ that Costello sent to officials late last year.
Costello defended herself during Question Time on Thursday, saying she had not written the documents she sent to officials, and she had not specifically asked for the advice.
“The documentation is a range of historical policy positions and notes that were held in New Zealand First policy positions. Some of it relates to things that were passed in the legislation when New Zealand First was in government. This is a range of points and positions and it’s about five pages long.”
Costello also said on Thursday she was unsure who wrote the documents.
“The fact is, I was asked a question about whether I had sought specific advice. I had not sought specific advice, which was the question I answered. I referred to a range of advice I had sought from officials,” she said.