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Thursday 9 September 2021 9:51am

New Zealand needs more innovative stop-smoking measures if it is to achieve its 2025 smoke-free goal, a University of Otago study says.

Funded by a Health Research Council programme grant and published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, the study outlines findings from in-depth interviews undertaken with 20 people who smoke daily, were aged between 21 and 53, and who earned less than the median income. The survey explored participants' smoking history and views on smokefree policies, including potential tobacco endgame measures.

Ivana Barbalich image
Lead author Ivana Barbalich

Lead author Ivana Barbalich, a third-year student at the Otago Medical School, says even though all the study participants smoked, several supported innovative measures.

“For example, participants supported reducing the nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels and saw this measure as likely to help reduce their dependence on nicotine and become smokefree.

“They also wanted more intensive personal support to help them quit but, despite their own sometimes difficult financial situation, they did not agree with a proposal where people would be paid to quit,” she says.

Senior author and programme principal investigator Professor Janet Hoek says there is not a single, simple solution that will help New Zealand reach its Smokefree 2025 goal and reduce smoking prevalence among all population groups.

“We need a comprehensive strategy that includes the different measures our participants supported and that we know are likely to be effective from larger surveys and modelling studies.

“We have a crucial opportunity with the Smokefree Action Plan to incorporate more diverse measures that change the structure of the tobacco marketplace. We have done a lot to reduce demand for tobacco by reducing advertising and promotion, but we need to change how tobacco products are designed and supplied, if we are to realise the Smokefree 2025 goal.”

New Zealand needs more innovative measures, but in particular “we must recognise that tobacco companies are not legitimate enterprises selling normal everyday products, and we should stop treating them as though they are”, Professor Hoek says.

“We also need to understand that becoming smokefree is not simply a matter of swapping one source of nicotine for another; it means recreating rituals that may provide social connections, comfort and relaxation.

“That's why we must and ensure the support we put in place to help people quit is more comprehensive, more accessible, and sustained over a longer period. Greater resourcing of community-based programmes could provide the more intensive support people sought and reduce the feelings of isolation they expressed.”

Ms Barbalich says the study also raises important questions about how smoking is framed.

“Smoking is often implied to be a choice or habit, not an addiction; we need to challenge this framing, recognise that the vast majority of people who smoke want to quit, and think more carefully about how we support these people to become smokefree,” she says.

“Presenting smoking as a choice blames people for continuing a behaviour many are desperate to stop and reinforces the misconception that they can control their dependence. As 2025 approaches, fostering compassion for people who smoke may be as crucial as reducing cigarettes' availability and addictiveness.”

For further information, please contact:

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

Lea Jones
Communications Adviser, Media Engagement
University of Otago
Tel +64 3 479 4969
Mob +64 21 279 4969

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