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Letter | Health and nuisance impacts from outdoor smoking on public transport users: data from Auckland and Wellington

Local governments in New Zealand have been progressing a range of outdoor smokefree areas, including playgrounds, parks, sports fields, sporting stadiums, and other settings such as zoo grounds. There has also been some activity to develop smokefree streets, and central government has mandated smokefree school grounds.

Various reasons favouring outdoor smokefree areas include:

  • To help to denormalise smoking, so as to protect children from smoking uptake, to promote quitting and to protect ex-smokers who are at risk of relapse. This is particularly relevant for New Zealand given the Government goal of a ‘Smokefree Nation by 2025’.
  • To lower the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS) which is a proven carcinogen, and a cause of coronary heart disease. A range of New Zealand studies has found that SHS contributes to air pollution in city streets, including in areas around pubs and restaurants. One of these studies found relatively high levels of fine particulates (PM2.5) from SHS in Lower Hutt bus stops (up to 153 µg/m3). Other New Zealand work has also reported elevated peak levels of these fine particulates in transportation settings (e.g., 21 µg/m3 in a 2006 study and 62 µg/m3 in a 2010 study).
  • To reduce nuisance impacts from the irritant effects of SHS. National “Tobacco Use Survey 2008” data indicate that SHS exposure at a bus stop or train station is still common (at 11.9% of respondents; 95%CI: 10.6–13.2%).
  • To reduce a range of fire and environmental cigarette butt litter costs and damage. These include street cleaning costs, the costs of removing or limiting the effects of this litter in storm water and sewage treatment systems, and ecological harm. In Wellington, such cigarette butt littering commonly occurs even when litter bins are ubiquitous.
  • To help improve the images of areas or cities, especially where local authorities are interested in ‘healthy’ town or city branding.

Despite such issues, not all train platforms are smokefree and no New Zealand towns or cities currently have smokefree bus stops (to our knowledge in July 2012).

Internationally, smokefree policies for transport waiting areas are becoming common, with policies in three states and over 250 cities in the USA, and policies in South Korea (Seoul), seven Canadian cities, and South Australia. Given this background, we considered other data to inform further discussions around smokefree public transportation settings (and wider smokefree shopping street developments).

Continues …

Citation: Russell, M., Wilson, N. & Thomson, G.  (2012). Health and nuisance impacts from outdoor smoking on public transport users: data from Auckland and Wellington (Letter).  New Zealand Medical Journal, 125(1360), 24 August.