Bus-stop smoking can keep passengers away

High rates of smoking in outdoor transport waiting areas in this country could be undermining moves to encourage people to enjoy the health benefits of public transport, research suggests.

An international smoking survey, conducted through the University of Otago's Wellington campus, notes that 11% of people were observed smoking in New Zealand outdoor transport waiting areas, compared with 7% in Britain.

A co-researcher, Dr Marie Russell, says the results show the need for policies to protect people from the health risks of second-hand smoke in New Zealand bus queues, transport shelters and other outdoor transport waiting areas.

About 500 New Zealanders die each year from passive smoking.

Dr Russell said that in Australia, California, Japan and other places, local authorities had increasingly adopted ''smokefree streets'' and in some regions and countries there wassimilar protection from smoking for people waiting for public transport.

The Otago University study drew on observations of nearly 5000 adolescents and adults at 91 sites across England, Scotland and New Zealand, and has been published in the international journal Health & Place.

Dr Russell said some of her earlier PhD research on public transport unearthed concerns by many New Zealanders about being exposed to cigarette smoke while queuing at bus stops.

Dr Russell said regional councils and other authorities operating public transport systems should be thinking about the way in which smoking in bus queues and shelters, and the resulting grime and cigarette butts, were discouraging some people from using public transport.

Researchers have previously pointed to the increased walking many users of public transport undertake, compared with driving a car. Using buses and trains, instead of driving cars, also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

The Otago University study also found New Zealand playgrounds and streets had less smoking than in Britain.