How old were you when you first noticed people smoking?
Ask most smokers when they started, and they’ll say, ‘When I was a kid.’
Chances are none of those kids realised they could get addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes within days of first smoking. Why? Because when they smoked, that nicotine went straight to their brain. Right to the part that controlled feelings of pleasure, by releasing dopamine, a chemical that tricked them into thinking a cigarette makes them happy. Problem is, within a few minutes, that pleasure goes, and in around 30 minutes the craving for a cigarette begins a new cycle. What really needs to go, is the cigarettes.
Building personal and social skills, encouraging kids into sports and other things they’re good at and passionate about, along with empowering them to resist being influenced by friends and the media, all help kids avoid tobacco use in the first place. It’s really great that the Smokefree topic is being taught at school as a part of our kids health education.
Dr Michael Russell says “People smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar.” Who would have thought that curiosity, peer pressure, pushing boundaries and smoking because parents, advertising and availability normalised it, would turn so quickly from being cool, to becoming a lifelong harm causing problem. Imagine if those kids learnt the truth. That if they are one of two people who smoke, and they become long term smokers, one of them is going to die from a smoking related disease.
What else needs to go, is mums, dads, aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers, nanas and grandads and friends smoking around little kids. There’s no better time than now to recognise that smoking around kids influences them to smoke, and worse, it’s super harmful to their health. Kids don’t always have the choice or ability to be able to get away from the toxic poisons of second and third hand smoke. Second hand smoke exposure increases a child's risk of serious infections that affect breathing, including pneumonia and bronchitis. It causes around 15 thousand asthma attacks in kids aged under 16 years in New Zealand every year.
Addiction makes it pretty hard for grown ups to make sensible choices for themselves, so it’s just as well a ruling is coming into place called the Smokefree Environments Amendments Act (Prohibiting Smoking in Motor Vehicles Carrying Children.) It was passed in May 2020 and comes into force soon, on 28th November 2021. This will prohibit smoking (and vaping) in motor vehicles carrying young people under 18 years of age.
Schools are doing their bit. They realise cigarettes have to go. By law, all schools, kura kaupapa, early childhood education centres, and kōhanga reo must be totally Smokefree, indoors and out.
Local councils realise cigarettes have to go. They're in the process of making outdoor areas like playgrounds, parks, beaches, sports grounds, bus shelters and even mountains, Smokefree.
A decade ago the Māori Affairs Select Committee led an inquiry into the tobacco industry and the consequences for Māori. The target to slash smoking in New Zealand came after they recommended setting a goal for Aotearoa to be Smokefree by 2025 so our children and grandchildren will be free from tobacco.
Because that time is rapidly approaching and our New Zealand Government realises that cigarettes have to go, a significant new proposal was put forward and is presently under review. The plans include the gradual increase of the legal smoking age, which could extend to a ban on the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004, making smoking effectively illegal for that generation.
One of the proposals was to restrict the locations where tobacco and cigarettes can be sold. Getting tobacco off the shelves of about 5 to 8 thousand convenience stores, service stations, on-licensed premises and supermarkets, will prevent kids from starting to smoke. Getting it off the shelves, out of sight and out of mind is a terrific idea especially because tobacco retail outlets are presently four times more highly concentrated in disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Cancer Society CEO Lucy Elwood says "The proposed plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for New Zealand to prevent today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s consumers of tobacco."
The Government is determined to reduce the horrendous burden of death and disease caused by smoking. They say Smokefree 2025 will be achieved by
- protecting children from exposure to tobacco marketing and promotion
- reducing the supply of, and demand for tobacco
- providing the best possible support for quitting.
Luckily for quitters, The Ministry of Health considers vaping products to have the potential to make a contribution to the Smokefree 2025 goal and say it could disrupt the significant inequities that are present.
They encourage smokers who want to use vaping products to quit smoking, to seek the support of local stop smoking services to provide them with the best chance of quitting successfully. That's pretty good news for the 550,000 smokers left in NZ.