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Train station signs send weak smokefree signal

Wellington campus

Friday 22 February 2019 9:58am

Wellington railway station smokefree signs image

More than 20 per cent of the 54 railway stations in the lower North Island have no smokefree signs at all and many others have signs of poor quality, researchers from the University of Otago, Wellington have found.

The researchers said a particular problem was that there were no signs at any of the 186 pedestrian entrances to the platforms, which meant train users could easily miss the smokefree signs that did exist.

The study, published in the New Zealand Medical Journal today, resulted from an examination of all 54 passenger train stations in the lower North Island, from National Park in the north to Wellington in the south, almost half of the country’s railway stations.

Lead researcher Professor Nick Wilson says smoking at railway stations is problematic for those waiting in the same area, particularly for those seated in semi-enclosed areas.

“Research shows that being around smokers makes it difficult for those trying to quit. Second-hand smoke outside can be a health hazard, even when smokers are more than 10 metres away.”

Another of the researchers, Associate Professor George Thomson, says having smokefree outdoor areas at railway stations is becoming more important as the number of rail commuters continues to climb in both Auckland and Wellington.

“As part of new legislation to help achieve New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal, the government could ensure that all transport areas are made smokefree, and have adequate signage. Such legislation has made school grounds smokefree, and the wider public — particularly those trying to quit — also deserve this protection.”

Common smokefree signs in Wellington Station
Common smokefree signs on many of the supporting posts on Wellington’s main railway station platforms.

Professor Wilson says new legislation could also ensure proper signage was used. “We found that some of the smokefree signs were not easy to see as they were placed high up on buildings or poles, above eye level. Some signs were also very small at only five centimetres by 10 centimetres, about the size of a small envelope.”

There was also no indication that railway staff could or would enforce the outdoor smokefree policy.

Previous surveys have found that people are sometimes exposed to second hand smoke at bus stops and railway stations (12 per cent of New Zealanders in the last month) – but this may be changing as more people switch to vaping instead of smoking.

In other research, train users reported health and nuisance concerns from smoking at transport waiting areas, including problems for breathing, and that the smoking made their clothes smell and set a bad example to young people.

Note to editors:

The full title of the paper is “Smokefree signage at railway stations: A survey of 54 stations in 11 local government areas”. It is published in today’s New Zealand Medical Journal. A copy is available by emailing

View / download a full report with photographs of the different types of signs (PDF, 5.7MB)

For further information contact:

Professor Nick Wilson 
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington

Liane Topham-Kindley
Senior Communications Adviser
University of Otago
Mob +64 21 279 9065