Quakes make ex-smokers start again

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 05:00 05/09/2012
James Robertson, 16, who was stressed by the quakes, finds smoking calms him.
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ
STRESS RELIEF: James Robertson, 16, who was stressed by the quakes, finds smoking calms him.

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More than a quarter of former smokers in Christchurch went back to cigarettes to help cope with the city's major earthquakes, a new study has found.

Canterbury District Health Board researchers interviewed 1001 Christchurch residents 15 months after the September 2010 earthquake about their smoking habits before and after the quake.

The results showed that 319 were people who had stopped smoking before the earthquake, but 76 of those - 28 per cent - smoked again at least once afterwards.

Of the 293 people who were smokers when the quake hit, 93 increased their consumption of tobacco, with 53 attributing it to the earthquake and the ensuing changes in lifestyle. The remaining 409 people surveyed, who had never smoked, did not start smoking after the quake.

Professor Lutz Becker, the main author of the study, said the results suggested that exposure to trauma, such as a natural dis aster, could prompt people to start smoking as they believed it helped alleviate their anxiety and stress.

Sixteen-year-old James Robertson said he was an occasional smoker before the city's major earthquakes hit, but began smoking up to a pack a day afterwards.

“I was in Cashel Mall for the [February 2011] earthquake. I was quite stressed out at the time, seeing the things I saw. Having a smoke is a nice quick, easy thing; it calms you down a lot."

He had thought of quitting, especially because of the cost, but said it was “very hard to quit".

“Pretty much all my friends have started smoking after the earthquake. I know more teens that smoke now than don't."

CDHB smokefree manager Vivien Daley said it was important to have supplies of nicotine-replacement therapies available in case of a disaster.

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- Canterbury

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