It has been a long week for Casey Costello

Written By: - Date published: 10:45 am, February 2nd, 2024 - 46 comments
Categories: health, nz first, political parties, spin, taxpayers union, winston peters - Tags:

Spare a thought for Casey Costello.

Fresh from her being elected to Parliament and rushed into Cabinet she has spent the first few weeks getting used to the job.

And making a complete hash of it.

On January 25 Radio New Zealand revealed that the Government was considering halting increases to excise duties on tobacco.  Currently the tax on tobacco increases by the rate of inflation.  The Government decided to investigate the implications of freezing increases for the next three years.

On top of previous news that the Government was going to wind back smoke free policies this was big news of itself. But what attracted attention was Costello’s attempt to hide what was happening.

From Guyon Espiner at Radio New Zealand:

RNZ has learned Costello is proposing a three year freeze on CPI-related excise increases for smoked tobacco.

But when RNZ put that to her in an interview Costello said she hadn’t looked at it.

“I’ve had no discussions on that at all. Like, that’s – it’s not even something I specifically sought advice on,” she said. “I haven’t looked at a freeze on the excise at all.”

But RNZ has seen a Ministry of Health document, sent to Costello, which says the minister is proposing to freeze the excise tax.

“The additional information you provided to us proposed also to freeze the excise on smoked tobacco for three years,” the document says.

While Costello told RNZ she had not asked for advice on the issue, the Ministry of Health document appears to contradict that.

The document sent to Costello asks: “whether you would like advice in January 2024 to include implications of a three year freeze on CPI-related excise increases for smoked tobacco.” The ‘yes’ option is circled in the document, which was signed by Costello on 20 December, 2023.

This was incendiary. It appears that the Government needed the extra income from selling of smokes and an increase in lung cancer so that it could pay for tax cuts for land lords.  And it looks like Costello had tried to hide this from the media.Costello’s attempted justification for telling what was on the face of it a mistruth was that this was only one of a number of options she wanted looked at and had not “specifically” sought advice on. But this stretches the meaning of the word “specifically” beyond breaking point or at least is really, really disingenuous.

Then more infomation came out.

In messages to the Public Service Costello claimed that nicotine was no more harmful than caffeine. I guess if you only look at it and don’t ingest it that is probably correct.This particular claim led to other ministers engaging in extraordinary linguistic manoeuvres to try and agree with her.  Sort of.

 

Costello pushed for the removal of tobacco excise off “less harmful smokeless tobacco products”. It is NZ First policy to stop subsidising nicotine gums, patches and lozenges which could be regarded as being competitors for these products

And she claimed, without proof, that the Tobacco Industry was on its knees. 

To top things off she has been unable to say who wrote policy notes that she provided to Ministry Officials. A cynic would think that British American Tobacco wrote the policy. As time goes by this seems to be more and more of a distinct possibility.

Because Costello has rather strong links to BAT. 

She was previously acting chair of the Taxpayers Union. BAT has admitted that it has supported the Taxpayers Union.

From the Guardian:

New Zealand Taxpayers Union has repeatedly opposed plain packaging, which removes branding from cigarettes packs. Dozens of Atlas thinktanks, including the New Zealand Taxpayers Union, signed open letters to the World Health Organization opposing plain packaging in 2016 and 2018. In response to questions from the Guardian, British American Tobacco said it currently supports this organization.

There is no clarity about the Taxpayers Union funding. This has increased dramatically over time and for the year ending December 31, 2022 it received $2.826 million in income and had nearly a million dollars in cash in its bank accounts.  Who knows how much it received last year and how much was provided by its corporate sponsors.

And Costello is not the only person associated with the Government to have links to the Tobacco Industry.

Costello clearly has a lot of explaining to do.  And if it can be shown that her briefing notes to the Ministry of Health came from British American Tobacco then her future looks shaky.

46 comments on “It has been a long week for Casey Costello ”

  1. alwyn 1

    What I don't understand is why we haven't had a string of complaints along the lines of the ones the MSM produced for Ghahraman.

    You know. The only reason people are complaining about Costello is because they complainants are vile misogynists. Leave her alone. It is all because of the attacks that are made exclusively on female politicians that we hear these comments about our poor misunderstood Casey.

    Whatever.

    [That is a really weak attempted diversion. Please try harder – MS]

    • Drowsy M. Kram 1.1

      Maybe the claim that "the tobacco industry in New Zealand is on its knees" led our poor misunderstood Minister for Seniors Casey Costello to act in ways that are completely out of character – time will tell.

  2. Mike the Lefty 2

    I don't actually object to the idea of not automatically increasing tobacco duties every year. I was part of a group before the 2017 election in Palmerston North that challenged shadow health minister Stuart Nash to look at alternative ways of tackling smoking other than turning tobacco into "brown gold" if Labour won. My wife worked at a local dairy and I worried about her being injured or worse if armed robbers came.

    I think that making tobacco increasingly expensive is effective only up to a point and I believe that point may have arrived so I don't object to the minister's policy, what I object to is this policy seems so ad hoc. What is her alternative method of reducing smoking? or does she even have one? I'm all ears but have heard nothing, so far. It certainly suggests tobacco industry pressure and/or a minister who needs to shape up a lot.

  3. tsmithfield 3

    In messages to the Public Service Costello claimed that nicotine was no more harmful than caffeine.

    She probably isn't too far wrong in that respect if nicotine is considered in isolation. Though, I think it is still more harmful than caffine. If nicotine was the most harmful substance in cigarettes, then nicotine vapes wouldn't be much less harmful than cigarettes themselves.

    My understanding is that it is all the other stuff produced by smoking cigarettes that causes the main harm. For instance, the tar, and all the other chemicals that tend to be imbibed through smoking.

    https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/tobacco/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products.html

    • Robert Guyton 3.1

      That nicotine is no more harmful than caffeine is utter nonsense, in my opinion.

      The resulting swirl of views will leave many people who have never considered the possibility wondering if it might be the case though, just as constantly challenging Te Tiriti o Waitangi will result in many people, who have never considered the issue before, wondering if it might in fact, be the case. Hence the anxiety being felt, particularly by those intimately affected by the phenomenon and the glee being experienced, by those who seek to gain financially by it.

    • Macro 3.2

      See my comment on this yesterday

      1 February 2024 at 5:11 pm

      • tsmithfield 3.2.1

        Fair point. Reading the article you link to, it seems to me that they are talking about very high doses of nicotine. Otherwise, those who vape with nicotine products would experience similar effects. So, it is important to consider the dose with these sorts of comments.

        Overdosing with caffine isn't a lot of fun either:

        https://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-overdose

        • Robert Guyton 3.2.1.1

          It's not about overdose, it's about habituation and the harm that does; cigarettes and vapes do, coffee doesn't.

          • tsmithfield 3.2.1.1.1

            I agree that nicotine is more addictive for sure. Though, caffine is still quite addictive. I should know. I would find it hard to go without my daily dosage of caffine. lol.

            • lprent 3.2.1.1.1.1

              Sounds like you have a more general problem with mental addiction.

              Of course it is possible to overdose on caffeine. That is the nature of any drug. But caffeine in my experience shows no signs of being addictive.

              I routinely drink large amounts of coffee daily when working on projects. I have done so since about 1977. At peak, when pushing work through, this can be drinking several litres of coffee per day. At one point caffeinated drinks until I noted the sugar rush issues of getting over weight.

              Essentially coffee and caffeine help with maintaining long periods of concentration. Typically I drink a lot of coffee when doing 8+ hours per day working on code.

              I also routinely have weeks on holiday where I don't drink coffee or consume any caffeine at all. Typically this is when I'm just reading, blobbing on TV or just exercising or idling. I drink water, cordial or soup or social alcohol then.

              I never notice a transition. Never have any withdrawal symptoms from coffee.

              But the pattern for addiction is quite different.

              I smoked Camels or rollies from 1980 to 2011. Not a lot, I'd get through about 2-3 packs of 20 per week. Every time I tried to give up (at least 6 times), I'd wind up with withdrawal symptoms. Unable to concentrate. Occasionally getting shakes. Obsessing about getting cigarettes and tobacco.

              Eventually I had a heart attack and had to give up as cigarettes were implicated as a contributing issue. Fortunately I was a bit in shock even if I did get back to work in less than two weeks, had a large supply of nicotine withdrawal sweets, and a partner who was absolutely adamant they she didn't save me from dying so I could resume killing myself with tobacco.

              Even then it took several years to get to the point where I could be around cigarettes without getting twitchy and wanting to have one.

          • weka 3.2.1.1.2

            caffeine in products like coffee do do significant damage, it just plays out differently, in part because caffeine addiction can be controlled over the day whereas once you are addicted to nicotine, you have to have it regularly.

            For instance, coffee impacts on REM and NREM sleep, which has serious flow on effects on health when it's used chronically. Sleep deprivation and poor quality is one of the major drivers of illness in industrialised humans. Someone might get away with a morning coffee, but drinking coffee all day will affect the quality of sleep and without good sleep the body can't function properly including repairing itself and metabolism.

            • tsmithfield 3.2.1.1.2.1

              Weka, latest studies suggest that several cups of coffee a day are actually very good for you.

              https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/is-coffee-good-or-bad-for-your-health/

              I usually try to limit my coffee intake to the morning to avoid the sleep problems that can arise.

              • weka

                we can all find support for our vices on the internet 😉

                I followed one of the links in your piece and got this,

                Coffee is probably best known for that one natural stimulant — caffeine — that gives people energy and keeps them alert throughout the day. Caffeine binds on adenosine receptors, which normally make you feel sleepy, and reduces their depressive effects.

                https://www.discovermagazine.com/health/is-coffee-good-for-you-or-not

                That's the 'why we drink coffee' half. But it doesn't address the impact on sleep and sleep deprivation health issues. If we don't reduce adenosine naturally during the day, it stops us sleeping.

                Drinking coffee in the morning is certainly sensible. This is what I meant by it being an addiction that one can control over the day, whereas that's less likely with cigarettes. But coffee also impacts on the quality of sleep not just the ability to fall asleep.

                My point here isn't to say all coffee drinking is bad. It's to point out that it's a key component for many people in sleep issues, and sleep issues are a major driver of illness (and accidents).

                My guess is we don't rate sleep issues highly because there's no substance to point to as the problem (as with tobacco or alcohol).

                • tsmithfield

                  I think its one of those things where "fat used to be bad now its good" type situations.

                  So, food manufacturers reduced the fat way down, but increased the sugar so that the food tasted good. But now, added sugar is seen as the villain, but fat, not so much, especially if it is the right sort of fat:

                  https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/heart-matters-magazine/nutrition/ask-the-expert/sugar-vs-fat-which-is-worse

                  So far as coffee goes, I think it is a lot to do with the flavanoids in coffee as well. For instance, I understand that instant coffee doesn’t provide the benefits that real coffee does, perhaps because real coffee is still loaded with the natural flavanoids.

                  So, perhaps, coffee is the opposite to cigarettes if it comes with lots of good added extras in contrast to all the poisoness ones that come with cigarettes..

                  • Dennis Frank

                    Not just that though. Weka's point hinges on resilience, and folks can't get to it without integrating the natural function of sleep (regeneration of bodily tissues/organs).

                    Sleep is an evolutionary adaption acquired in the extreme distant past – but only by some parts of Gaia. Nonetheless, those organisms that do sleep, need to do so to remain healthy.

                • lprent

                  It's to point out that it's a key component for many people in sleep issues, and sleep issues are a major driver of illness (and accidents).

                  Sure. But sleep cycles vary a lot for humans.

                  I'm a person who never developed a rigid sleep cycle. I can and do sleep whenever it is convenient. Will play games or code in the middle of the night. Will happily go off for a 4-5 hour deep sleep in the middle of the day with the sunlight pouring into the room.

                  For me, when I go to sleep is to do with if I have don't have a productive time ahead. I sleep when I have time to sleep or when I need to sleep because I am losing focus. If I have time to sleep, then I sleep. If I need to sleep to be productive, then I also sleep.

                  I'm as happy getting up at 0430 as I am at getting up at 1100. And I wake up instantly. The only hassle I usually have the people who want to interrupt my sleep. If I have had more than 2-3 hours sleep, I usually can't go back to sleep for 3-4 hours after being woken. I'll usually read a book, surf the net, work or play a game until I'm ready to sleep again.

                  It is a pain dealing with people who have rigid sleep cycles. I might go to bed at 1930 after some hard coding, get woken by my partner at 2330 while she is getting to bed, and then be awake until 0400 and go back to sleep for 4 to 5 hours. That would happen at least once a fortnight.

                  Caffeine has nothing to do with my sleep patterns. I will drink coffee before going to bed. Frequently do because it makes my 'working dreams' more coherent. Those are the ones where I have a problem and find a solution while sleeping.

                  It also has nothing to do with me staying awake. I usually don't drink coffee when I'm not working, and because of living in a 55sqm apartment, I'll usually play games or read in the dark and even work slowly if my partner is asleep at night. Boiling the jug or grinding coffee wakes her up.

                  Even as a kid I didn't have a strong sleep cycle. Doing night shift as a factory hand (and going to secondary school during the day), working as a dairy farm hand with 0430 start, lambing beats, and "hurry up and wait" in the army during my teens certainly got rid of the sleep cycle.

                  You learn to sleep when you have the time. You're always working to make sure that you have enough sleep time whenever that is available.

                  • weka

                    Sleep cycles do vary among humans. We evolved to sleep in shifts to take care of infants and to protect against predatory animals, hence night owls, morning larks, those in between, and whatever you are describing (the small number of people who can adapt across a wider range).

                    However, circadian rhythms are set in each person, which is why forcing nigh owls to work 8 – 5 jobs is quite bad for them. The extent to which we can adapt around that is a different thing, which is what you are describing I think. But most people can't function like you do, and when they try they get negative health effects.

                    "Caffeine has nothing to do with my sleep patterns. I will drink coffee before going to bed."

                    There are people who smoke cannabis and get hyperactive. They're in the minority compared to people who smoke the same cannabis and relax. This strikes me as an evolution adaptation as well, humans came out of tribes/family groups and having a range of capacities via our metabolism and physiology would confer and advantage.

                    I might go to bed at 1930 after some hard coding, get woken by my partner at 2330 while she is getting to bed, and then be awake until 0400 and go back to sleep for 4 to 5 hours. That would happen at least once a fortnight.

                    Broken sleep like that for most people causes health issues because the complex cycles of hormones involved in sleep and thus body repair and maintenance don't get a clear run. Many people end up having broken sleep every night or most nights, even when there is no partner waking them up. That's a functional sleep disorder.

                    How coffee plays into that or not varies by person. There's pretty clear science that caffeine interferes with the cell receptors that are integral to being able to go to sleep. But also coffee affects REM and NREM sleep so even if the person does get to sleep on time and stays asleep, the quality of the sleep is impacted. That's where the health impacts are less immediately visible, but there's plenty of science on this.

          • Chess Player 3.2.1.1.3

            Habituation takes many forms, Robert.

            Whether it is nicotine, caffeine, religion, political tribalism, slavish diligence to some obscure scientific principle or sports team euphoria, it lives amongst us.

            Have a great weekend.

            • tsmithfield 3.2.1.1.3.1

              Hey Chess Player, I am a keen player myself, just having gone back to the club this year. Would be good to have a chat about that.

              Hopefully the mods will let this through. Perhaps we could touch base on GD or the likes.

        • weka 3.2.1.2

          no-one smokes nicotine. They smoke tobacco. The nicotine in the tobacco is what makes smoking physically addictive (and quite a hard addiction). I agree that the other ingredients in cigarettes are part of the problem, but it's the whole package.

          • tsmithfield 3.2.1.2.1

            In the case of vapes it isn't though. Several of my off-spring have gotten off cigarettes throught the use of nicotine vapes. They are gradually reducing the nicotine dosage in the vapes, so hopefully soon will be off the habit all together.

            So, I think there is a point in distinguishing cigarettes from nicotine, as the nicotine may well not be delivered via cigarettes.

            • weka 3.2.1.2.1.1

              I agree it's useful, but nevertheless most people smoke cigaretttes, and they get the addiction via nicotine, plus the harm from nicotine and the other ingredients.

              • tsmithfield

                It would be interesting to see the figures on that. From my anecdotale experience, it is quite rare for me to see people smoking these days. But I do see lots of people vaping.

                • weka

                  I hardly ever see people smoking either, but I reasonably confident that is about you and me, not the number of people smoking ie smokers tend to be in specific parts of society now and we are not around them. That's the indoor smoking ban and socioeconomics.

                  Smoking rates in Aotearoa New Zealand continue to decrease. Currently, an estimated 6.8% of adults are daily smokers (284,000 people) and 8.3% of adults are current smokers (350,000 people) 27

                  https://www.smokefree.org.nz/smoking-its-effects/facts-figures

                  • weka

                    same link, it's 17% of Māori smoke.

                    If 6.8% of adults smoke, that's 1 in 15 people. I should know a few smokers, but I'm struggling to think of any.

            • Robert Guyton 3.2.1.2.1.2

              " Several of my off-spring have gotten off cigarettes throught (sic) the use of nicotine vapes. "

              "They are gradually reducing the nicotine dosage in the vapes, so hopefully soon will be off the habit all together."

              Those claims are incongruent, tsmithfield, sorry to say.

        • Macro 3.2.1.3

          Further to the above.

          Lethal doses of caffeine have been reported at blood concentrations of 80 to 100 micrograms/ml, which can be reached with ingestion of approximately 10 grams or greater

          A strong cup of coffee (double shot) might have as much as 85 milligrams of caffeine . That’s around 120 cups of double shot coffees to achieve a lethal dose.

          Compare that to a lethal dosage of 30-60 mg/ml of nicotine.

          We can see that nicotine is more toxic than caffeine.

          Nicotine is also more addictive (that’s not saying caffeine is not addictive).

          To say that nicotine = = caffeine is not true. They are not the same. Nicotine is more toxic and more addictive.

          • weka 3.2.1.3.1

            yes, nicotine is toxic and more addictive.

            But, caffeine, where it is impacting on sleep (amount and quality) has hidden harms that we're not very good at accepting or understanding (seem my comments above).

            • Macro 3.2.1.3.1.1

              weka I completely understand the point you are making – but you are missing the issue here. The claim is made by the tobacco industry that nicotine is no different from caffeine (indeed it is used by the Associate Minister for Health)

              "Nicotine is as harmful as caffeine but its association with smoking has seen the poorest punished by huge taxes as they make up 64% of daily smokers. This is why getting smokers onto vaping matters because it's the number one reason why smoking has collapsed."

              This is wrong and that is the point that needs to be addressed. It's not helpful to confuse the issue with a possible side effect of drinking coffee in the evening.

              The fact is Nicotine is more harmful than Caffeine and the science I have quoted backs that up.

              • Robert Guyton

                Agree, Macro – and that's the rub. The industry and its puppets seek to blur the thinking – and they might well succeed – it worked for climate change (gas is transitional) and may well prevail here, given the embedding of pro-coal/smoke MPs in this coalition Government.

                • Macro

                  Yes Robert – I too see exactly the same sort of false argument here. We have been down that track with CC and all the what aboutism then.

                  BTW it's snowing in Colorado atm so what's all this about Global Warming! 🙄

              • weka

                not so much missing the issue as making a sidebar note of an additional issue.

                yes, big tobacco play dirty, the government parties have close connections, and Costello is both an idiot and corrupt in the sense of being aligned with big business rather than health and wellbeing.

                Where they say nicotine is as harmful as caffeine, and you say nicotine is more harmful than caffeine in response to the politics, I would say, caffeine is as harmful as nicotine but we just pretend it isn't.

                And if we want to delve into the politics of that, remedying sleep deprivation would necessitate major system change that at the least would be the end to the 9 – 5, 40 hour week, but in reality would undercut the supply of labour that neoliberal capitalism relies on and that's not even getting to the issues for women who raise young children esp those that also work.

                So yes, the tobacco right are running bullshit PR. But it's disappointing to see the left reacting via the binary.

                My comments here were about the claim that caffeine isn't that bad. They're both bad.

    • Mike the Lefty 3.3

      Just imagine if it had been a Labour minister who said that nicotine was no more harmful than caffeine.

      Immediately the political right would have started screeching about Labour's secret plans to tax caffeine and Mike Hosking would be fielding calls from tearful cafe owners fearing their businesses will go to the wall if a latte becomes unaffordable.

      But of course because it is a National led government we won't hear a whisper.

  4. Tricledrown 4

    [deleted]

    [You must respond to your Mod note (https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-20-01-2024/#comment-1985677) before commenting. This is your final chance before I move you to the Ban List until further notice – Incognito]

  5. Ad 5

    Costello was instrumental in turning Hobson's Pledge as an organisation from 4,000 to just under 150,000 members.

    That's more members than the Greens, Labour and National put together.

    With that scale of political machine, Costello is easily the appealing successor to Peters.

    • Robert Guyton 5.1

      Appealling?

      She can energise the disgruntled, couple with industry.

      How does that appeal?

    • Dennis Frank 5.2

      This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history and we either seize it or accept a future of separatism and disunity.

      https://www.hobsonspledge.nz/newsletter

      Inasmuch as the Treaty provided for continuation of traditional separatism, that divide has been our political tradition since colonisation began.

      How can they create unity where it has never existed? Get everyone to agree to it. Are they trying to do that? No. Doesn't matter how many join up then, eh? It will remain a sham regardless….

    • alwyn 5.3

      Where do those numbers for Hobson's pledge come from? !50,000 members seems to be an amazing number.

  6. Stephen D 6

    Hound her till she resigns.

    No quarter asked, no quarter given.

    • Tiger Mountain 6.1

      yes
      Agree, Judith Collins ended Ian Lees Galloway’s political career on live TV fer chrissakes…

      Dirty Politics and back channeling is how these fuckers operate, there are few filthier money trenches than Corporate Tobacco.

  7. Joe90 7

    Doing her owner's bidding.

    @BrentAllpress

    I went to school with Casey Costello. She shilled for the far right Institute for Public Affairs in Australia in 2023 with cynical disinformation on the Treaty of Waitangi to undermine the Yes vote in the referendum on a Voice to Parliament

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=l_ZkGOqrHfI&feature=youtu.be

    https://twitter.com/BrentAllpress/status/1753199553854218254

    • Anne 7.1

      Casey Costello is a Cooker. In other words she is as crazy as…

      She manipulated her way into parliament via the backdoor. That is, NZ First. She's now a minister with important responsibilities. She should not be there.

      This tobacco debacle is only the start. She has the potential to do serious damage in all her portfolios and turn the country into a vehicle for overseas ridicule.

      If Luxon and co. continue to support the woman they are doing everyone including themselves a disservice.

  8. observer 8

    The broader issue here is that Luxon handed himself over to Peters after the election, and signed a deal saying "let me be your hostage".

    Labour and National ministers have stuffed up often over the years, and faced the consequences. PMs can easily and swiftly deal with members of their own party. But in this case, the PM is obliged to give extra leeway to a minister because s/he is there to fill a quota. The coalition agreement says NZF must have 3 ministers in Cabinet, and if Costello gets sacked Luxon can't simply appoint somebody he thinks is competent to replace her. He has to pick one of Winston's crew, where talent is hard to find.

    This is exactly what happened in the first Nat/NZF government. National MPs were frustrated because their path to promotion was blocked by NZF mediocrities.

    And that did not end well.

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