Penny Thompson, who heads the Hawke's Bay District Health Board's seven-strong Smokefree programme unit, is very much aware of how tough a task it can be to convince people to stub their habit out for good.

She has been there herself.

"I stopped and have been smokefree for five years," she said. "I started when I was very young - I was about 14."

Her "highly addictive" attachment to tobacco was sadly reflective of one of the battles she and the unit are now engaged in.


A recent survey of Year 10 students, those aged 14 and 15, showed about 10.8 per cent had smoked or were smoking, and of those the highest number were young Maori, many of them girls.

Ms Thompson said while there had been some good results in getting young people off smoking there was clearly a way to go.

But it is happening.

In the 15-to-19 age group of Hawke's Bay young people, there has been a 40.4 per cent decrease in young smokers since 2006 - a figure which equated to about 945 teenagers.

It is heartening, as are other results in the wake of the Smokefree unit's determined and carefully planned approach to clearing the air.

The DHB has reached the national secondary smokefree target and is three-quarters of the way to achieving the primary target.

With her own background of smoking, Ms Thompson knows the challenge of getting people off the habit is a tough one.

"It is not easy and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do," she said. "Tobacco is highly addictive and going smokefree is not easy at all - but I did it."

And she said others could too, adding that achieving the right approach and delivering the right advice could often be as challenging as the quitting process itself.

"The key message is not what you say, it is how you say it."

There had to a level of empathy and understanding in conversational advice to people about smoking.

"It comes down to the delivery of the message," she said.

That message has clearly begun getting through, as evidenced by statistics released by Quitline earlier this year which showed a growing number of Hawke's Bay people are turning to Quitline to stub their habit out for good.

Engaging with whanau is vital in reducing the high numbers of Maori smokers.

Older folk, who smoked but recognised it was not want they wanted to see their younger ones pursuing, are vital in that engagement.

Ms Thompson said the unit worked in closely with Health Hawke's Bay, the councils (through combined smokefree initiatives around parks, play areas and even bus shelters), Maori health service groups and local iwi.

There are also plans well under way to create a Pasifika approach.

Ms Thompson said the unit had always looked for innovative programmes aimed at all ages and all people.

"It is about creating the best advice and ensuring support."

Ms Thompson said while the government needed to do more to reduce smoking, one thing it had done was help many quit through increasing the tax take, which upped the price of cigarettes and loose tobacco.

So, could the country become smokefree by 2025, which is the long-range target goal the government has set?

"I would like to say yes, but there is a lot of work to do before then."

The first goal her team, and others throughout the country, had in their sights was the 2018 figure of reducing the smoking population to just 10 per cent.

In 2006, the census showed 20.6 per cent of the population smoked but, by 2013, that figure had dropped to 15.1 per cent.

One thing that drives Ms Thompson, apart from successfully beating the habit herself, is the memory of her father. He was a smoker and the cancer it created took his life.

"He was only 61 - he went well before his time."