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“Nanny State” worries trump child health in smokefree policymaking

Students taking notes in a lecture

Thursday 30 September 2010 9:25am

Despite strong public and smoker support for smokefree area changes, research from the University of Otago, Wellington indicates that New Zealand politicians and health officials prefer education to protect children, not regulation.

The findings emerge from a new study examining influences on smokefree area policy development, in which Department of Public Health researchers Helen Wilson and Dr George Thomson analysed interviews with 62 politicians and senior officials.

Dr Thomson says the reluctance to regulate appears to be because of fears of the politics involved, including ‘nanny state’ worries, and because politicians and policymakers are generally not aware of the strong support for change.

“While the majority of those interviewed perceived the issue of smokefree public areas as highly controversial, the reality is that recent research shows, for instance, that more than 65% of smokers, and 75% of the New Zealand public, think smoking should not be allowed at public playgrounds.”

Other research in 2008 found that 96% of New Zealand smokers support banning smoking in cars carrying pre-school children, he says.

The current study indicates that politics generally came before evidence in deciding policy and that concern for smokers often came before concern for children, he says.

“This shows that policymakers would benefit from a greater appreciation of how overwhelmingly acceptable New Zealanders now find the idea of such smokefree law changes.”

The research was published in the international journal Health Policy and was funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

For further information contact

Dr George Thomson
University of Otago, Wellington
Tel 64 4 918 6054

'Balancing acts': The politics and processes of smokefree area policymaking in a small state. Article in Press, Health Policy (2010), doi:10.1016/j.healthpol.2010.08.017

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