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Letter | Updating New Zealand’s national smokefree law to reduce anomalies and improve health protection

In this NZ Medical Journal letter from ASPIRE2025 researchers George Thomson and Nick Wilson, they discuss the status of the New Zealand’s national smokefree law and the need for an upgrade and expansion of this law.

The letter follows a Judicial Review in August/September 2013, which identified problems with how “open areas” of buildings (where smoking is permitted in New Zealand) are determined in practice. The Judicial Review was the outcome of an application for a review of the “open area calculator” and it found that this calculator was inconsistent with the definition of an “open area” under the Smoke-free Environments Act.

The outcome is backed by New Zealand based research evidence around very enclosed “open area” settings at bars and pubs, in which the measured air pollution (PM2.5) from tobacco smoke can be quite high. This air pollution from smoking in such “open areas” also drifts into indoor areas—exposing even more people to this hazard (as per other New Zealand research).

This letter suggests that while it is possible that a new calculator will have to be designed by the Ministry of Health, such re-design may not be worth the effort and might even lead to further legal processes. It says that the optimal response to this situation may be to take the opportunity to upgrade the law and expand it, so that it better resembles state-of-the-art international practice.

One suggestion was for new legislation to require a simple and highly transparent approach to smokefree outdoor areas at restaurants and pubs/bars. That is, all areas within 10 metres from all built structures that the public use are required to be smokefree. This is somewhat like the 20 and 25 foot laws that appear to work well in parts of the USA.

The letter summarises arguments that we now need an upgraded law that better protects New Zealanders from secondhand smoke and is a strong foundation for achieving the Government’s 2025 Smokefree Nation goal.

A full PDF of the letter can be requested from the authors (emails below).

For further information please contact:

Associate Professor George Thomson
University of Otago, Wellington

Or email:


Wilson N, Thomson G. (2013) Updating New Zealand’s national smokefree law to reduce anomalies and improve health protection. (Letter) NZ Med J 2013, 126 (1384) 1-3.

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