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Letter | Public Attitudes to New Smokefree Outdoor Places Policies in New Zealand: An Analysis of 217 Online Comments

Because of the growing interest in smokefree outdoor policies internationally, and the restricted qualitative evidence about attitudes to them, we investigated whether online material could be used to explore attitudes to smoking in, and smokefree policies for, outdoor areas. In particular, we aimed to identify what themes could be found in online discussions provoked by news articles on smokefree outdoor public areas.

What we found was that amongst these motivated commenters, support for smokefree outdoor area policies was less than in New Zealand public opinion surveys. Of the relevant comments, 41% appeared to support outdoor smokefree area policies and 48% were opposed.

We suggest that online comments provide a simple and rapid means of identifying key themes that may inform policy-making around new smokefree area policies. Themes identified in this study included:

  • concerns about the effects of smoking and secondhand smoke (SHS);
  • doubts about evidence of SHS harm;
  • rights to smoke or to breathe smokefree air;
  • the treatment of smokers by society;
  • whether proposed policies were appropriate.

As a data source, online commentary in response to news articles appears to have value for a range of public health research activities where public opinion is an important component.

To view this letter in the NZMJ, click here:(password required till October 2014)

A detailed report on this study is freely available online at

Citation: Oliver J, Thomson G, Wilson N. (2013) Public Attitudes to New Smokefree Outdoor Places Policies in New Zealand: An Analysis of 217 Online Comments. (Letter) N Z Med J 2014;127(1392)

For more information please contact:

George Thomson
University of Otago, Wellington


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