Academic wants ban on smoking in public

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 07/04/2014
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One of the last refuges for Wellington smokers may be removed if an Otago University researcher gets his way.

New research has mapped out the areas of Wellington where there is the greatest number of people smoking outside cafes and bars. Cuba St and Courtenay Pl are the worst offenders.

George Thomson, from the university's Department of Public Health, is proposing the Government acts to stamp this out - for example, with a blanket ban on smoking within 5 metres of anywhere people are sitting to eat and drink.

For hospitality-dense areas such as parts of Courtenay Pl or Cuba St, this would mean an effective ban on smoking in public.

But far from stigmatising smokers, Thomson said four in five smokers wanted to quit and this would be a further catalyst.

"Smokefree outdoor areas help smokers to quit, help those who have quit to stick with it, and reduce the normalisation of smoking for children and youth.

"They also reduce litter, water pollution and cleaning costs for local authorities and ratepayers."

It would also reduce temptation as quitting smokers would not be surrounded by smokers.

But Ciaran Duffy, manager of The Malthouse on Courtenay Pl, thought the idea seemed "a bit ridiculous".

With the bar surrounded by other dining and drinking establishments "people would have to go to the islands in the middle of the road" to smoke, he said.

He was sympathetic of the need to reduce smoking. Existing smoking areas accommodated smokers rather than ostracising them, he said.

Plum Cafe also has a large outside area, but co-owner David Fenwick largely supported the suggestion.

"The world is going smoke-free in public places, it is natural Wellington follow this evolution . . . smoking adds no value or enjoyment to the dining experience of non-smoking patrons."

His outside area was near a playground, which people should not smoke near anyway.

A five metre non-smoking zone could have problems - for example, conflict when people tried to enforce the rule.

"Could this lead to smokers carrying measuring tapes?"

Smoker Richard Edwards said it would lead to less people going to bars in an already depressed hospitality industry. "Smokers will be forced down alleyways to smoke, like weed smokers were 10 years ago."

For many places, five metres from a cafe or bar was in the middle of the road.

Thomson, an associate professor, said smokers in the 25 to 30 age bracket were almost as likely to smoke now as the same age group 10 years ago.

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It meant there were now more people taking up smoking in their 20s than previously.

While census data showed 83 per cent of Wellingtonians don't smoke, it is not clear who does smoke. Only 12 to 13 per cent admitted to smoking in the census. Many did not answer.

The researchers observed 2600 people, only in outdoor areas in bars and cafes, and found 16 per cent of people were seen smoking.

This was higher in the evenings, and highest in Cuba St and Courtenay Pl.

- The Dominion Post

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