Contest helps smokers kick the habit

By Martin Johnston

Photo / Peter Meecham
Photo / Peter Meecham

Researchers have hailed the success of group quitting competitions as a powerful way of giving up smoking.

The release of results on the Auckland and Northland trial among Maori and Pacific people comes as smokers awaken to their New Year's resolutions and the latest in a series of hikes in tobacco taxes.

The 11.1 per cent increase - including a rise linked to inflation - pushes the price of a popular brand of 20 cigarettes to more than $16, from $14.40.

It is the first of four annual 10 per cent increases in tobacco excise - on top of the inflation-linked rise - designed to discourage smoking and help New Zealand reach its goal of being virtually smoke-free by 2025.

Three similar rises have already been imposed on factory-made cigarettes since 2010, with an even greater increase on loose tobacco.

Another price rise today is the fee for state-subsidised drugs - up from $3 to $5 - including nicotine replacement therapy.

Dr Marewa Glover, the director of the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Auckland, said 31 per cent of the 148 smokers who entered in the quit-smoking contest in May reported that they were not smoking at the six-month follow-up point in November.

Earlier, at the end of the three-month-long competition, the quit rate was 36 per cent, verified by a carbon monoxide breath analyser machine. Dr Glover was "blown away" by the results of the trial, funded by the Health Ministry and the Health Research Council.

Quitline reports 24 per cent of its clients are smokefree at six months, although the statistics are assembled slightly differently.

Dr Glover said her group's six-month results were important, especially for the Maori and Pacific Island populations, whose smoking rates were much higher than the national rate.

The ministry's 2011/12 Health Survey showed that the national smoking rate continued to decline, but there had been no change in the Maori and Pacific Island rates.

"We can't just keep doing what we've been doing. We are just not going to get to 2025 if we keep doing that. We have to find new ways of supporting smokers to quit," Dr Glover said.

The contest involved 15 teams of up to 10 members each - five rural Maori teams from Northland and, from Auckland, five urban Maori and five Pacific Island teams.

The researchers say current stop-smoking programmes, like Quitline, work just as well for Maori and Pacific people as they do for others, but too few Maori and Pacific people are using these programmes to halve smoking prevalence by 2020.

"[The contest] is based on Maori and Pacific cultural values, for example by having teams of people quitting together rather than focusing on individuals. [It] is designed to be fun - Maori and Pacific people love a competition. [It] also gives communities a chance to raise some money for a good cause."

Dr Glover hoped her group's trial would lead to a series of national and regional quit-smoking contests.

Already Hawkes Bay and Northland were planning an inter-regional quit-smoking battle, to run from March until World Smokefree Day on May 31.

Who can help

* Quitline - 0800 778 778

* Call centre open from 8am today.

- NZ Herald

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