Marlborough has topped a national table of the biggest drop in teenage smokers.
Statistics from the 2013 Census show the number of smokers in Marlborough aged between 15 and 19 has halved since 2006.
The figure has shocked anti-smoking lobbyists in the region.
Cynthia de Jeoux is a cease cigarette (Aukati Kaipaipa) co-ordinator with the Maori health provider Te Hauora o Ngati Rarua and works with children at Marlborough's three colleges. Students are referred to her by schools predominantly after being caught smoking in the school grounds.
She routinely sees between six and 12 children each week. In 2013, she dealt with 170 young people and only five successfully quit. This year alone she has seen more than 40 school-aged children. The youngest referral was aged 11.
"I am surprised by the figures, I am still working with the same number of students each year. There still seems to be a prevalence in the uptake of young smokers but I am always pleased to hear this news.
"I promote quit while you are ahead and don't be coming and seeing me in 40 years. It is about prevention education. I work on the positive message that being smokefree is making a good choice. We do active promotion, making letter box drops and getting in people's faces."
Through one-on-one and group sessions Ms de Jeoux looks at the reasons behind smoking and gives schoolchildren tools to quit the habit. "I deal with a lot of the Maori population which is the hardest socio-economic group. They can afford the least to smoke yet do it the most," she said.
"We have high achievers with smoking problems as a result of anxiety and we have groups of underachievers at an academic level. These are popular kids at school that struggle with the pressure put on them and have a ‘what the heck' attitude. All these kids have an amazing resilience that is not channelled properly.
"Peer pressure is one reason they offer. They see their friends smoke and they want to feel part of a culture and fit in. Boredom is another common word I hear. Kids will also do what they see and many referrals have parents that smoke."
Ms de Jeoux is seeing the knock-on health effects of lighting up.
"I am starting to see chest infections," she said. "The same kids are aware of the impacts of smoking but have made a positive move towards quitting. Some are not aware of the effects. It is not until they take up the challenge to quit and it is quite empowering for them to discover that can do it."
Smokefree cessation co-ordinator at Marlborough Private Health Organisation Amora Katu agreed the drop in teenage smokers was shocking but there could be an undocumented reason.
"There appears to be a ripple effect. If one person quits it will have a ripple effect on others," she said.
"I have been a smokefree co-ordinator for eight years. I am surprised by the figures and would have anticipated a smaller drop of between 30 and 40 per cent."
Teenagers who smoke in Marlborough:
2006 Census Male 282 Female 276 Total 561
2013 Census Male 126 Female 126 Total 252
- The Marlborough Express
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