New Zealand Health Minister Apologizes for Ambiguous Tobacco Policy Response

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New Zealand Health Minister Apologizes for Ambiguous Tobacco Policy Response
New Zealand Health Minister Casey Costello apologizes for vague response on tobacco policy advice, sparking confusion and controversy in Parliament.

According to the New Zealand media, recently, New Zealand's Deputy Minister of Health, Casey Costello, apologized to Parliament for giving ambiguous answers when questioned about her receipt of advice on tobacco policies.


Costello seeks permission to release a "personal statement" rather than a correction statement in response to her answer on January 30th whether she sought advice on freezing tobacco excise tax CPI adjustments.


In response to questioning about whether I had denied to the media that I had requested advice on a proposed freeze on tobacco taxes, I would like to clarify my position. Upon reviewing my previous responses, I believe there may have been some confusion due to a misunderstanding of the difference between seeking specific advice and accepting advice that is offered. I want to clarify that I did not intend to mislead the parliament, and I apologize for any confusion that may have arisen.


On the other hand, Labour Party leader Chris Hipkins has proposed a motion stating that Costello's statement is confusing because she did not specify which answer she was correcting. "I think in this House, nobody will understand which statement she just corrected," he said. This correction seems to be related to a question asked by Labour Party health spokesperson Dr. Ayesha Verrall, after it was officially disclosed that Costello had earmarked a tobacco tax freeze proposal.


Earlier, a lawmaker had asked whether there would be consideration in January 2024 of recommendations regarding the impact of three consecutive years of frozen tobacco-related CPI on tobacco tax increases. A document with a "yes" option was checked by Costello on December 20, 2023.


On January 30th, Villar questioned Costello in parliament, asking, "Did you indicate in the document annotated and signed on December 20th that you wanted advice from the Department of Health on freezing tobacco taxes?" Costello replied, "Yes, among a series of proposals, there was indeed a request for information on the impact of freezing tobacco taxes." Villar further asked, "In that case, why did she deny requesting specific advice on freezing cigarette taxes during a media interview?" The minister responded, "I did not say that I did not put forward specific proposals. I did include this issue in a series of questions I posed."


Finally, Costello's statement released today corrected this point, indicating that endorsing the official's recommendations is equivalent to requesting advice.


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