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Smokefree Day of special significance this year

1 June 2005

World Smokefree Day of special significance in New Zealand this year

World Smokefree Day 2005 is of special significance in New Zealand - it's the first World Smokefree Day since the Smokefree Environments Amendment Act came into force last December. And health has been the clear winner from that move. December 10 last year heralded a new era for workers, says Ashley Bloomfield, the Ministry of Health's Chief Advisor, Public Health. "From that date all internal areas of workplaces had to be smokefree, including offices, taxis, warehouses - even 'smoko' rooms.

"Reduced exposure to second-hand smoke among people on licensed premises, and particularly workers, will be having significant health benefits. Before the law change, around 350 New Zealanders died each year from exposure to second-hand smoke. Many others became ill.

"Second-hand smoke contains poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia and carbon monoxide. Fewer people are now being exposed to these toxins."

Dr Bloomfield says New Zealanders should be proud to be living in a country that, along with Ireland and Norway, is leading the world in reducing people's exposure to tobacco smoke. On June 1, similar legislation comes into force in Sweden, while Belgium and Scotland have also announced plans to go smokefree. Meanwhile, in the United States, Vermont has passed legislation banning smoking in bars and restaurants. This comes into effect on September 1. Vermont is the ninth American state to pass smokefree laws.

Dr Bloomfield said an Asthma and Respiratory Foundation survey published last month showed a big increase in support for smokefree licensed premises in only three months. Particular support was coming from smokers - from 22 percent support immediately before the legislation came into force, to 42 percent by March.

Another survey, undertaken in February by the Hospitality Association of New Zealand (HANZ), had found the impact of smokefree bars had been less than anticipated. Just over half of the respondents (53 percent) felt business had stayed about the same, or increased, with more reporting no real change.

Dr Bloomfield said a reduction in takings through gaming machines as a result of the gaming environments now being smokefree clearly presents an issue for sports clubs that are important beneficiaries of the takings. "However, the benefits to people's health should not be downplayed - both in terms of the reduced exposure to second-hand smoke as well as the additional money that is now available to communities for other important purposes, including sport."

Dr Bloomfield said while New Zealand celebrated moves to create a healthier environment, a quarter of New Zealanders continued to smoke. "Those smoking rates continue to be higher for Maori, Pacific people, youth and often for people in rural areas. Smoking remains a serious public health issue and there is still work to be done."

ENDS

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