Fewer Cantabrians puffing on tobacco

Fewer Cantabrians than previously thought are smoking to deal with post-quake stress.

The number of Canterbury adults regularly smoking has dropped from 19 per cent in 2006 to 14.6 per cent last year, newly released Census data show.

During that time, 14,997 fewer people turned to tobacco, debunking findings of recent studies suggesting more people were lighting up in the wake of the earthquakes.

A notable decrease was also recorded among the region's young smokers.

Just 10.8 per cent of people between the ages 15 and 19 consider themselves regular smokers, a 7.4 per cent drop since 2006.

Nationally, there were 22.5 per cent fewer smokers in 2013 than 2006, and the rest of the South Island had a similar decrease.

Otago led the country, with a 25.6 per cent drop in adult regular smoking.

The nationwide decrease has been hailed a "wonderful result" by ASH director Stephanie Erick, who said it highlighted the effect of tax increases on tobacco and a "national strategy" targeting smokers.

"The messages are getting through to those smokers who are keen to quit but haven't been accessing those services," she said.

Erick said she was "particularly pleased" about the decrease in Christchurch.

While there was no way to know if there would have been a larger decrease without the effects of the earthquake, she said, many people may have adopted the "life is short" mentality and opted to quit.

The census data appear to contradict popularly held beliefs about the state of smoking in Canterbury.

About the same time as the census was held last year, the Canterbury District Health Board reported smoking was on the rise.

One study at the time surveyed 557 Christchurch people actively trying to quit smoking in a clinical drug trial during the quakes. More than 60 per cent relapsed after the February quake.

Canterbury District Health Board Smokefree manager Vivien Daley said an increase in cigarette prices was having an impact.


While a small research project showed a slight increase in smoking in Christchurch in the year after the quakes, the trend before, and more recently, showed overall rates had been steadily decreasing, she said.

However, one Christchurch tobacco researcher believes health professionals should not be celebrating too soon.

End Smoking New Zealand Trust chairman Dr Murray Laugesen said the decrease was "nothing startling" over the period. "We would have also seen a greater decrease if it wasn't for the earthquakes."

While anti-smoking campaigns and tax increases had deterred some people from smoking, it was still not enough, he said.

Laugesen said there would be no a rapid decline in smoking until nicotine electronic cigarettes were legalised.

Other significant changes in the region highlighted by the new census data included a continuing decline in religious affiliation, and the expected exponential growth of the construction industry.

Last year, almost 10 per cent fewer people identified with a religion, with a quarter of Cantabrians checking the "no religion" box.

The total number of Canterbury residents working in the construction industry had increased 53.8 per cent since 2006.

The Press