Will Verrall be a Joyce or a Wilson?

Ayesha Verrall is seen as one of the potential stars of Labour. She authored the independent review into Covid-19 tracing as an infectious disease specialist (incidentally the Government is absolutely failing to meet the targets she said they should meet) and she became a Minister immediately after being elected to Parliament last year.

The only two other major party MPs who have done this in the MMP era are Steven Joyce and Margaret Wilson. And the question is whether Verrall will be a Joyce or a Wilson.

Joyce served nine years and was Minister of everything, having been Minister of Transport, Comms, Tertiary Education, Economic Development, Infrastructure and Finance etc. He was seen as one of the best performing Ministers.

Margaret Wilson looked great on paper with her background as a Law School Dean, but she struggled so much with parliamentary processes etc that she ended up being shifted sideways to Speaker after just four years as a Minister.

An early issue for Verrall (she is Associate Health Minister with responsibility for public health issues) is the Government’s commitment to have NZ smokefree by 2025, which is defined as fewer than 5% smoking tobacco. This target was actually championed by the Maori Party under National and if Labour doesn’t make the target, I have no doubt the Maori Party will make it an ongoing issue.

It is almost non controversial to state that reduced harm products such as e-cigarettes and vaping are essential to hitting the target. Even ASH says so.

Yet the Government is promoting regulations that are so flawed that they will actually make it harder to achieve the smoke free target. The suspicion is the Minister didn’t get into the detail.

The proposed regulations are here. Some issues with them:

  • The draft regulations have accidentally banned nicotine salt. This is despite their own consultation document saying there is no evidence nicotine salt is more harmful than other nicotine and they think it should be available
  • The draft regulations accidentally ban mint and menthol flavored vapes which means dairies can only sell tobacco flavoured vapes
  • The draft regulations accidentally ban heated tobacco products by applying the same compound limits on them as e-cigarettes

None of this is deliberate as the consultation document doesn’t say it wants to ban these. It’s just the details are so badly drafted that they have huge unforeseen consequences. The end result might be an Associate Minister passing regulations that doom any chance of meeting their smokefree target.

So this is going to be a good test of the Minister, as to whether she is a Joyce or a Wilson.

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