Lockdowns aren't good for smokers.
More than a quarter of the 500,000 New Zealanders still smoking said their cigarette intake increased during last year's level 4. It is possible that a similar increase is taking place during the latest level 2/3 alert.
While professionals wring their hands about the health implications of this on smokers' lives, there is a significant role bystanders, friends and whānau can play to help - and it lies in our attitudes toward them.
Some of us apply value judgments when we see people we know light up, often because we are concerned for them. But many people still smoking in Aotearoa have had too much experience of being judged for things they have no control over – their ethnicity, job status, where they live for example. They are highly sensitive to being "judged". Any whiff of it can not only have the opposite effect, it may alienate the very person you are trying to help.
Most smokers already feel powerful amounts of whakamā, or shame, each time they light a cigarette. Not only does this feed into issues of self-worth, it can stop smokers from reaching out for help.
Studies have shown that as well as preventing the seeking of support, stigmatising smokers may actually enhance or reinstate cigarette use, playing a key part in the vicious cycle that drives people to continue smoking.
People contacting Quitline sometimes tell us that the non-judgmental, positive conversations we have with them are important to their quit journey. If someone tells you they want to quit, it's good to celebrate this milestone with them.
If they regress a little and smoke a few, that's okay. Let them know it's normal to have a snakes and ladders approach to quitting. Remind them it's what they do next that matters.
Let them know that they're not alone. People trying to quit are "in it together" and online support can be the "team" they carry in their pocket.
It is best to avoid telling smokers what to do or how they should change. Instead, invite them to consider what changes they would like to make. Give them permission to have a go at quitting. You could use statements like: "What have you got to lose?"
The good news is that quitting smoking often has much more than just a positive effect on physical health. Many ex-smokers say that they experienced an increase in self-worth when they stopped.
Quitting smoking can be a powerful motivator for people to then make other changes in their lives. There is a sense of: "If I can do this, what else can I do?"
While smoking may be one of many barriers to someone's wellbeing, living in difficult circumstances doesn't need to stop them quitting cigarettes. Sometimes, it is about realising that with support this could be the one thing they can do something about.
If there are several family members smoking, a whole-of-whānau approach may be worth trying. This can help break the cycle and offer a smoke-free future for tamariki.
Almost 26,000 smokers reached out to Quitline for help in the year ending June 30, 2020. More than 28 per cent of them were smoke-free after four weeks.
While we salute each and every one of these new non-smokers, we have a long way to go.
With half a million of our people still addicted to cigarettes, it's going to take a team of five million to help them. So come on Kiwis, let's quit shaming smokers and support them to stop instead.
• Dr Lyndy Matthews is a general adult psychiatrist and consulting psychiatrist for the National Telehealth Service including Quitline.