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Tuesday 17 November 2020 12:39pm

Designated outdoor smoking areas in bars are facilitating experimentation and tobacco use among young adults, a new study has found.

Julia Brillinger image 2020Julia Brillinger.

Previous research has examined and confirmed the link between alcohol use and smoking, but it is thought the University of Otago research, which examined whether and how outdoor bar areas facilitate and normalise young adult smoking, is a first.

Twenty-two people aged between 18 and 25 who had recently smoked in a bar or nightclub took part in the study, undertaken by Julia Brillinger and Dr Louise Marsh of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, and Professor Janet Hoek, of the Department of Public Health.

The results showed participants valued comfortable and relaxing outdoor smoking areas, and such areas framed smoking as acceptable and normative.

Professor Hoek says this study adds to the “jigsaw” that helps explain rapid increases in smoking among young adults.

“We have quantitative studies documenting associations between alcohol and smoking, we have more general studies - including work we've done - probing how young adults rationalise social smoking when they are drinking, and now these findings analyse how bar environments create spaces that normalise and accept smoking.

“As we develop a richer and more detailed story of how tobacco and alcohol use practices are intertwined, I think we create a stronger platform for policy makers to intervene,” she says.

The study revealed three main themes around the participants' experiences of smoking – smoking as a respite, as a social connector and as a way of managing social judgment.

Most participants said external smoking areas were quieter, less crowded and more relaxed than interior areas, so conversation and connections with others became easier.

Professor Janet Hoek image 2020Professor Janet Hoek.

“Smoking played important functional roles in fostering these conditions; sharing lighters could initiate new social exchanges, while smoking itself filled awkward silences in conversations and reduced social anxiety by giving people something to do with their hands,” Professor Hoek says.

“Convenient and accommodating spaces provided shelter and warmth and welcomed smokers into a setting where smoking was expected and accepted.”

Some participants, particularly those who considered themselves social smokers, said they would not smoke if the designated area was “ages away” or not comfortable, while others said they smoked purely because the area was there, describing it as the “sheep effect”.

“Smoking is no longer a socially accepted practice so spaces that normalise smoking are inconsistent with smokefree goals,” Professor Hoek says.

Lead author Julia Brillinger says other countries have already introduced smokefree outdoor areas and there are precedents New Zealand could follow.

“There has increasingly been a trend towards smokefree outdoor areas. Smokefree outdoor bar and restaurant patios have been implemented in some Canadian provinces and municipalities, some US municipalities, some Australian territories, Catalonia in Spain, and Sweden.

“By sanctioning and normalising smoking, bar settings facilitate experimentation and increase tobacco use among young adults,” she says.

“Achieving the Smokefree 2025 goal means we must change environments that facilitate smoking uptake and normalise smoking. We hope the Government's long-promised Smokefree 2025 Action Plan will respond to the evidence we and others have produced.”

The project received funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand via Te Rōpū Rangahau ō Te Kāhui Matepukupuku: Cancer Society Research Collaboration.

Publication details

Bar atmospherics and Smoking: A Qualitative Analysis of New Zealand Young Adult Smokers
Nicotine & Tobacco Research

For further information, contact:

Professor Janet Hoek
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington

Julia Brillinger
Department of Preventive and Social Medicine
University of Otago

Lea Jones
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 4969

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