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Misunderstanding may be obstacle to hitting Smokefree 2025 target

Tuesday 25 May 2021 12:38pm

A lack of understanding about the aims of New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal – 10 years after it was announced – could be an obstacle in making the target a reality, a recent University of Otago-led study shows.

Professor Janet Hoek image 2020
Professor Janet Hoek.

In a letter published in the New Zealand Medical Journal last week, the study’s co-authors Professor Janet Hoek, Ivana Barbalich, and Professor Richard Edwards, of the University of Otago, and Associate Professor Coral Gartner, of the University of Queensland outlined the confusion surrounding the Government’s goal.

The Government adopted the Smokefree 2025 goal for New Zealand in 2011. Its ultimate aim is to have less than 5 per cent of the population smoking by 2025. However, three years after the goal was announced, a survey found widespread misunderstanding of its intention. Once the goal was explained to the survey respondents, support increased, leading to calls for an urgent and comprehensive campaign.

But Professor Hoek says that has not happened, and now 10 years on, a recent study reveals misunderstanding remains.

Late last year, the group undertook in-depth interviews with 20 daily smokers aged between 21 and 53, who earned less than the median income. Most were unclear what the goal meant and several mistakenly believed sales of tobacco products would end in 2025. However, like the survey taken in 2014, support for the goal increased once the its aim was explained.

“Confusion has arisen because there has never been a national action plan designed to realise the 2025 goal and there has been no clear communications strategy to ensure people understand what the goal means and what its rationale is. In the absence of a clear communications strategy, people develop varied interpretations of the goal, some of which are not correct,” Professor Hoek says.

“These misunderstandings can lead to concern and may even reduce support for some of the important actions proposed.

“Aside from leading Māori politicians, no politicians have championed the goal or worked to ensure it became a mainstream aspiration. That's an enormous missed opportunity; the goal has very high support among non-smokers; even people who smoke and who will be affected by many potential new policy measures, support developing a country where smoking prevalence is very low. Ensuring wider understanding after the goal was first announced could have enhanced acceptance of the goal, and prompted and supported people who smoke to quit.”

Achieving the goal requires widespread understanding of changes that will occur, knowledge of support that will be available to assist people to quit, and an environment where tobacco products are no longer addictive, sold at every corner store, and able to use flavours and other features to make addiction easier and quitting harder, Prof Hoek says.

“If people interpret the goal as banning tobacco or prohibiting smoking, opposition is likely to be higher and there could be reactance. Ensuring people understand what the goal means and the changes that will be introduced will encourage the many people who smoke and want to quit, to make a quit attempt.

Publication details

A qualitative analysis of how people who smoke and manage lower incomes perceive the Smokefree 2025 goal
Janet Hoek, Ivana Barbalich, Richard Edwards, Coral Gartner
New Zealand Medical Journal

Contact details

For further information, 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