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Public Support For Smokefree Parks

Friday 16 November 2007

Public Support For Smokefree Parks

A recent study by medical students at the University of Otago, Wellington has shown there is considerable public support for smokefree parks, particularly where there are children’s playgrounds.

The students carried out a survey to evaluate the effectiveness and public support for the smokefree policy adopted by the Upper Hutt City Council in 2006 for all parks and reserves. The study was part of the students’ programme in public health and was commissioned by the Cancer Society and the Upper Hutt City Council.

Upper Hutt City is one of the first Councils in New Zealand to adopt this policy, with only one other council in Taranaki having a smokefree parks policy at the time. Internationally there have been efforts to make outdoors areas such as parks, playgrounds, sporting fields, beaches etc smokefree.

“There’s growing interest in smokefree parks to prevent the negative role modelling effects of visible smoking for children, as well as preventing environmental effects such as littering,” explains Dr Richard Edwards from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington.

“This is why the students chose the three largest and most visited parks with playgrounds in Upper Hutt, and looked at the public response to the new smokefree policy.”

The students found a generally positive response, with 62% aware of the policy and 83% of park users believing smokefree parks are a good idea, including 73% of smokers. The most common reasons park users gave for agreeing with the policy are that ‘parks are for children’, it reduces negative role modelling, and reduces litter.

For the minority who disagreed with the policy, the main reasons are that smoking outdoors is acceptable, smokers have the right to autonomy, and the policy won’t work or can’t be enforced.

73 % of smokers also agreed with smokefree parks. Of those who knew about the policy only 17% still smoked in the parks compared with 32% of those who did not know about the smokefree parks policy.

“This study shows that the public is behind the Upper Hutt City Council’s promotion of smokefree parks,” says Belinda Hughes from the Cancer Society. “It’s important that as a community we act not only to protect children from second-hand smoke, but also from the role modelling of smoking. Efforts by the Upper Hutt City Council and others recognise this and provide national leadership which we encourage other councils to follow.”

The students also observed park users and collected cigarette butts over one week to estimate the extent of smoking in the parks. This showed there was still a considerable amount of smoking in one of the three parks. They conclude that compliance could be improved by further public education and better signage. They also recommend that future research should examine attitudes to the smokefree policy and smoking behaviour before and after it is implemented.

ENDS

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