Smokefree exhibit to illustrate harms

Tūhura Otago Museum says if the government has no interest in making New Zealanders smokefree by 2025, then the museum will do it for them.

The museum is opening its latest exhibition today — Te Mana o te Hā (Smokefree Science Showcase) — which will illustrate the harms of smoking by using interactives, including a pair of inflatable diseased pig lungs, a tobacco-affected mouth and a digital display of smoking-induced ageing.

The exhibit will then be showcased on a tour around New Zealand schools and communities.

Until late last year, New Zealand’s commitments to becoming smokefree by 2025 were world leading.

However, the planned repeal of the 2022 Smokefree Environments and Regulated Products (Smoked Tobacco) Amendment Act has not only jeopardised that status, but is poised to put thousands of lives at risk.

Museum visitor experience and science engagement director Dr Craig Grant said the youth-oriented, interactive showcase would also provide insights into the evolution and uptake of smoking and vaping.

Drawing on research from the University of Otago, it also tries to demystify some of the risks and myths involved, explore the physiology of addiction, the social history behind tobacco’s global spread, the environmental impacts of the nicotine industry and the marketing tactics used to cast doubt on health risks to recruit new users.

"I think it’s fair to say the [government’s] repeal news came as a shock, particularly to our research partners," Dr Grant said.

"The evidence is undeniable: without interventions such as denicotinisation, capping retail outlets and stopping sales to future generations, we’ll continue to lose 13 Kiwis a day to smoking or second-hand smoke exposure.

"So the onus is really on us all to educate our rangatahi about the risks they face, and the tactics used to seduce them into becoming the nicotine industry’s next generation of consumers."

Tūhura Otago Museum visitor experience and science engagement director Dr Craig Grant displays...
Tūhura Otago Museum visitor experience and science engagement director Dr Craig Grant displays two sets of pig’s lungs — one showing healthy lungs (left) and one replicating the long-term damage caused by smoking one pack of cigarettes per day. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
The New Zealand Health Survey showed daily vaping among 17-year-olds had nearly doubled from 8% in 2021-22, to 15% in 2022-23, and other surveys show even higher vaping prevalence among Māori and Pasifika.

Dr Grant said the "huge upswing" in youth vaping was particularly concerning.

"The vast majority of young people are not vaping to stop smoking or avoid the harms smoking causes.

"Nicotine is highly addictive however it’s used, and vapes aren’t risk free.

"As the museum’s showcase will explore, e-liquids contain loads of different chemicals, and we don’t know what the long-term impact of inhaling these will be."

Project co-ordinator Christine Wierda said by giving them the historical context and showing first-hand examples of marketing strategies, young people would be better equipped to question the messaging coming from the industry and also peer pressure.

To this end, Te Mana o te Hā would get young people to compare the marketing techniques in old cigarette advertisements with those of modern vaping campaigns.

"They’re alarmingly similar," she said.

"Once you can see those patterns, it’s easier to avoid being manipulated."

The team hopes engaging directly at a grassroots level will help give people the confidence to push back against some of the marketing hype and peer pressure.