The number of daily cigarette smokers in the Southern District Health Board area is well above the national average, figures show.
A health board report says 22.9 per cent of people in the southern area smoke daily compared with the national average of 17.7 per cent.
The report also says smoking is growing in popularity in the south, rising from 22.1 per cent to 22.9 per cent in the past five years.
"Daily smokers" are those who smoke every day and have smoked more than 100 in their lifetime.
The smoking figures, gleaned from the Health Ministry's New Zealand Health Survey, showed up in the Public Health South publication, The Impact of Alcohol on the Health of Southern Communities this month.
The New Zealand Health Survey delivered good news on smoking in general across the country, saying the smoking rate had fallen about 2 per cent nationally since 2006/07.
The number of occasional smokers in the southern district, at 24.1 per cent, also tops the national average of 19.8 per cent. And their numbers are also increasing, from 22.9 per cent in the five-year period.
The Southern District Health Board was this week appearing to play down the ministry's figures.
Board medical officer of health Dr Derek Bell said he believed smoking-related statistics from the 2012 Census figures would be more valuable.
"The information in the report . . . relies on a representative sample of the population," Dr Bell said.
"Much better figures will be available when results of the recent census are released and we look forward to those results for a clearer picture of the impact of smoking on our district."
The New Zealand Health Survey findings were based on data collected from 12,000 adults and 4000 children across the country.
Southern DHB quitting programmes were a high priority for the board and progress was pleasing, he said.
"The DHB's good coverage in reaching those who smoke may take some time to become evident in surveys and statistics. We will continue to look to new data, such as the census, to give us a better picture of how smoking rates are tracking."
The purpose of the ministry report is for districts to use their findings for planning to ensure delivery of effective health services, it says.
Cancer Society of New Zealand health promotion manager Penelope Scott said the society was aware of the statistics but was not sure why the percentage of smokers in the south was so high.
The society was working to make more areas smokefree so southern smokers who had managed to quit were more likely to stay away from cigarettes, she said.
"It's a long, slow process, but we'll get there in the end."
The government's plan to get the country smokefree by 2025 "was doable", but it would mean halving the number of new smokers beginning smoking now and doubling the rate of quitting, she said. Action on Smoke and Health (ASH) communications spokesman Michael Colhoun said it was difficult to gauge the significance of the figures as they were likely to be taken from a small sample size.
He did not know why there would be any great regional variance like the figures suggested in Otago and Southland, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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