Smokefree bus stops in pipeline

By Genevieve Helliwell, Teuila Fuatai

Bus stops in Tauranga may soon be smokefree zones.

Tauranga City Council strategic planner Cheryl Steiner said the council's draft smokefree policy, which will be released for public consultation next month, included proposals for anti-smoking signs at bus shelters.

Signs at "playgrounds, sports fields, grounds and carparks around community facilities and civic buildings", had also been proposed, Miss Steiner said.

The move followed research from Otago University that recommended making bus stops and train stations smokefree to protect people from secondhand cigarette smoke.

The research, which observed nearly 5000 adults and adolescents in Britain and New Zealand, found more than one in 10 Kiwis lit up while waiting for public transport.

Only 7 per cent of Britons were observed smoking at outdoor transport waiting areas.

Miss Steiner said the council's draft policy was developed for health and environmental reasons.

"It is an educational policy and therefore is not enforceable. This is the same approach that a lot of other councils around the country have taken."

Principles of the smokefree policy included the aim to denormalise smoking in the community, reduce the visibility of smoking in public places and reduce the amount of litter created by cigarette butts.

Otago University lead researcher Associate Professor George Thomson said smoking bans in outdoor waiting areas had several benefits.

"People are realising more and more that if they see people smoking around them - it's harder for smokers to stop smoking, it's harder for ex-smokers to stay quit and for children and young people who might think about starting smoking, it becomes much more normal if they see it around them." Smokefree policies could also reduce councils' city maintenance costs, Professor Thomson said.

At the central Tauranga bus depot, locals voiced overwhelming support for a smoking ban at bus stops.

Smoker Ratana Taurua said he refrained from smoking in any public place when there were other people around.

"In public places there's lots of kids running around and you don't want them picking up cigarette butts off the ground, they shouldn't be touching them ... so I agree that smoking at bus stops should be banned."

Mr Taurua said people should have the right to clean air.

"I don't think it's polite to blow your smoke into other people's faces while they're out walking, shopping or at a bus stop. You don't know who these people are, they could be trying to give up," he said.

Smoker Adrianne Gilbert felt a pang of remorse when she flicked her cigarette on to the ground in front of someone at the bus stop yesterday.

"A man stepped back and gave me a look and I apologised. I thought it was rude [of me] to do that," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.

Professor Thompson said research from Wellington City revealed thousands of cigarette butts contaminated drains around its harbour. Auckland also struggled with cigarette waste in sea water surrounding the city, he said.

The Otago University research showed no New Zealanders were observed smoking in playgrounds, compared to 2.8 per cent of Britons. However, researchers did find cigarette butts in playgrounds here.

Professor Thomson said while most parks, playgrounds and sports grounds were smokefree in New Zealand we still had far to go.

Local authorities in Australia, Japan and California had policies protecting people from secondhand smoke at outdoor transport waiting areas, he said.

However, Action on Smoking and Health director Ben Youdan said a "heavy handed" approach to smokefree outdoor policies was not needed.

"We don't need a 'smoking police'. Councils need to take an approach which is not about ostracising smokers, but understanding their addiction and providing a supporting environment in which to beat that addiction."

Increasing the tobacco tax, supporting quit programmes and "substantially reducing the powers of the tobacco industry to promote a deadly product" were all essential in moving towards a smokefree New Zealand.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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