Study backs ban on smoking outside bars

Last updated 16:09 21/02/2012
Lee Thomson

Both bar owners and the public share their thoughts of the Otago and Massey university study, which suggested smoking should be banned completely from bars. Laura Westbrook reports

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New Zealand researchers believe fewer people would take up smoking socially if smoke-free rules extended to areas outside bars.

The researchers from Otago and Massey universities carried out 13 in-depth interviews with people aged between 19 and 25 in Auckland and Dunedin early in 2011.

Their results have been published online in the journal Tobacco Control.

Most of those interviewed considered themselves to be non-smokers, and even thought they were better than smokers, but smoked to retain membership of a social network, the study said.

They frequently expressed disgust and remorse at how they felt after binge smoking and drinking, and nearly all saw smoking and drinking as activities that went together.

"Because alcohol plays such a pivotal role in facilitating social smoking, extending smoke-free areas to the outside of bars would decouple drinking from smoking in this environment," the study said.

Such a policy would create a physical barrier that, for some, would make getting to the smoking zone too difficult.

Nearly all participants supported the proposal, and agreed it would lead them to reduce or cease smoking, the study said.

Most social smokers were young adults, an important transition point where experimental smoking may progress to an addiction.

Some participants in the study reported smoking to maintain an affinity with others in their group, and avoid rejecting a gift that had value within the group.

"... I know it's bad for me but I can just do it and fit in or I can say no and run the risk of being outcasted or something like that," one said.

Smoking also relieved social pressures, giving people something to do together, rather than having to rely on talking to foster social connections.

"..it's not that I can't talk without a cigarette, it's just that something else to do all the time. It kind of makes the conversation flow a little bit more easily," a participant said.

Some also reported that they wanted to smoke while drinking, but not at any other time.

Those who identified strongly as non-smokers regretted the consequences of smoking.

"Well I hate it. Like if someone lit one up right now I'd probably vomit ... after I've had a drink I just don't care."

Smoking also intensified hangovers: "physically the next day I feel like crap. Um, for the next couple of days."

The research was carried out by members of ASPIRE2025, a partnership which aims to have this country tobacco-free by 2025.

The researchers noted that, as with all small scale qualitative research, their study had limitations. Only four of those in the study were women, who had been more difficult to recruit than men, while only two reported some Maori ancestry.

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