John Loof: Let's blow away the spread of cancer

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It is unfair that non-smokers have to inhale second hand smoke while dining outside at a restaurant or walking along the footpath. Photo / Brett Phibbs
It is unfair that non-smokers have to inhale second hand smoke while dining outside at a restaurant or walking along the footpath. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Aucklanders should support a smokefree city, writes John Loof, chief executive of the Cancer Society Auckland.

Based on ancient Mayan writings some people believe we could see the end of the world in 2012. A call for more smokefree public spaces in Auckland appears to have had a similar effect on some who believe the end of the world is nigh. Rest assured, the Cancer Society is only prophesying Armageddon for the tobacco industry.

A recent Herald poll shows smokefree is not just a topic supported by zealots on the margins of society, but is in fact supported by a majority of the Auckland community with 70 per cent of those polled positive about a smokefree Auckland. Most people, including many smokers, understand that smoking shouldn't be part of our future and that anything we can do to support our children not to start smoking should be a priority.

Research shows that when children grow up surrounded by adults who smoke they are much more likely to start.

The average age we start to smoke in this country is 14 and, sadly, for Maori the age is around 11 or 12. Once started, we all know how difficult it is to quit. These are clearly not independent adult consumer choices, as the tobacco companies will have you believe. This is primarily why we are calling for family places such as parks, playgrounds and sports fields to be smokefree. When our kids use local parks they should be getting a lesson in rugby or netball, not in smoking.

In Auckland alone there are five funerals every day as a result of smoking-related diseases. The Cancer Society and public health officials see first-hand the devastating toll this takes on families, whanau and our community. Each smoking-related death is preventable, which just adds to the tragedy. This is what motivates us to support the Government's goal of a smokefree New Zealand by 2025.

The Auckland Plan, due to be released next month, charts the future of the city through to 2040. Under Mayor Len Brown's leadership this council has said it is committed to improving the health of Aucklanders and making this the world's most liveable city. We welcome the Mayor's declaration that he will be a champion on this issue and it is very important that the plan acknowledges the Government's goal and recognises the proactive role council has in achieving a smokefree country by 2025.

These moves will also help Auckland keep pace with many international cities, including most of the major urban centres in Australia. Studies indicate widespread public support for Brisbane's stance on major pedestrian areas like Queen St mall and for Sydney's moves to have smokefree beaches. Locally, there have been few implementation issues and much positive public feedback from Mt Smart stadium to Auckland Zoo and across our 27 regional parks.

So why is it a good idea? Firstly, as much as we think smoking should be banned we understand that this is not realistic or practical in 2012. Perhaps it is worth speculating that if cigarettes were a new product being introduced into the market today, what chance would they have of being declared legal?

A series of incremental measures have brought smoking rates down from the historical post-war highs to around 20 per cent today. Strategies used included Government funded support such as the Quitline, public health campaigns, increased taxation, curbs on the marketing and promotion of tobacco products, as well as creating healthy public and private spaces that support non-smoking.

It is also unfair that a non-smoker (remember 80 per cent of the population) should have to inhale second hand smoke while dining outside at a restaurant or walking along the footpath.

Finally, what about the office worker who just wants to step outside for a quick ciggie break? We are saying that it is time to consider what is the real advantage of smoking? If it becomes a little more inconvenient in the future then that might just be the very reason to give up.

All these moves are not designed to victimise smokers. They are primarily setting a platform to prevent our kids from becoming the next generation of cancer statistics, as well as supporting Aucklanders to have the healthy future we all deserve. It's our future, let's make it one with less cancer.

- NZ Herald

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