Maori Party MP Hone Harawira kept his word this week when he got stuck into a tobacco company executive on the first day of a select committee inquiry into the killer industry.

Harawira, who said last September, that he'd "like to lynch these bastards ... who kill New Zealanders", didn't go as far as slinging a rope over the rafters of the committee room, but he did apply the metaphorical blowtorch to the general manager of British American Tobacco New Zealand, Graeme Amey. He read out a comment, plausibly attributed to a tobacco executive, that tobacco companies targeted "the young, the poor, the black and the stupid" and asked: "Is that a philosophy your company follows?"

Amey's disavowal sounded as lame as his recitation in answer to further questions that BAT (which in 2008 contributed $1.7 billion to its parent company's global revenue of $70 billion) sells a legal product and operates within the law.

This kind of ritualised utterance has moved beyond the implausible to become nauseating. Representatives of companies that get rich selling a product which, used as directed, causes direct and irreparable physical harm, should at least have the decency to admit as much.

Harawira, who represents a population disproportionately blighted by tobacco, is engaged in a righteous campaign to rid the world of a pestilential weed. The evasive Amey and his ilk should watch out.