Thirty years since public air cleared

Smokefree Otago members (back, from left) Sophie Carty (Cancer Society), Anoop Gopalakrishnan ...
Smokefree Otago members (back, from left) Sophie Carty (Cancer Society), Anoop Gopalakrishnan (WellSouth), (front) Debby Newton (Public Health South), and Catherine Thomas (Public Health South), relax at one of Dunedin’s smokefree ‘‘parklets’’ as they look back over 30 years since the Smokefree Environments Act came into effect. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Everyday life in New Zealand has changed almost beyond recognition in the 30 years since the Smokefree Environments Act was introduced.

The shift from the days of smoke-filled aircraft cabins, restaurants, and movie theatres, to today’s clean air in workplaces, social settings, and public spaces is worthy of celebration, Smokefree Otago representatives say.

The network of like-minded organisations, including the Cancer Society, Asthma Foundation, WellSouth Primary Health Network, and the Southern DHB, has been at the forefront of the campaign to reduce smoking rates in New Zealand since the early 2000s.

Public Health South health promotion adviser Debby Newton said the introduction of the Smokefree Environments Act 30 years ago this month had made New Zealand a world leader in the smokefree movement.

‘‘When you think about the places that people used to smoke — airplanes, cafes, and movie theatres, and tobacco sponsorship of events like fashion shows — we have come a long way,’’ she said.

In 1990, when the Act was passed, 30% of New Zealand adults smoked, a figure which had dropped to 13.2% by 2018.

‘‘One of the first main highlights for me was when playgrounds went smokefree — that was really exciting,’’ Ms Newton said.

‘‘That’s about children, which is so important — at the heart of all our work is the health of children and families.’’

It was also a milestone when the ‘‘power walls’’ of cigarette displays at service stations and dairies were prohibited in July, 2012, and went behind screens.

‘‘Tobacco products were normalised for so many years, they sat openly with the milk and the bread and the lollies,’’ she said.

The introduction of standardised packaging, which came into force in June, 2018, was also a big moment, because finally the product was depicted accurately.

‘‘The packages were then telling the truth about what it is — tobacco products don’t deserve the sunsets and the glamour.’’

Cancer Society Otago-Southland health promotion and advocacy manager Sophie Carty said there had been ‘‘more runs on the board’’ this year with the passing of the Vaping Amendment Bill and making cars smokefree for children.

‘‘It seems like a good time to reflect on all the awesome things that have happened,’’ Ms Carty said.

‘‘Our local community has done so much — putting up with us going out and doing surveys all the time, and local workplaces have stepped up to for the health of their staff.’’

Companies such as the OceanaGold Macraes mine had been supportive, allowing smokefree advocates to work with their staff over and again.

Local cafes had also been supportive, moving beyond the letter of the law to make their outdoor dining areas smokefree.

‘‘It has definitely been a team effort,’’ she said.

Public Health South health promotion adviser Catherine Thomas said the hard work was ongoing towards the Government’s Smokefree New Zealand 2025 goal, which aimed for fewer than 5% of Kiwis to be smokers by that year.

‘‘There are still a lot of things we need to work on, including the supply of tobacco products and advocating for smokefree public spaces and outdoor dining areas,’’ she said.

Ms Carty said Smokefree Otago believed that there were too many outlets for tobacco products, making it harder for people who were struggling to quit smoking.

‘‘Services such as the Southern Stop Smoking Service are working really hard to help people to ditch the cigarettes and not go back.’’


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