New Zealand society has come a long way in the last 40 years with respect to the behavior of smokers in our community. When I was a child, both of my parents smoked in the house and in the car and it was regarded as highly fashionable to be seen with a cigarette in your hand. My Father started smoking during WWII when all soldiers were given a ration of cigarettes. I still have an old cigarette packet which has on it “no sore throat, no cough”. In the late 1970’s I can recall travelling on planes, where smoking on board was just a normal part of societal practice.
Over the years there has been a marked cultural shift and it is now generally accepted that if you want to smoke, you smoke in a way that does not impact on others and you respect other people’s desires not to have their lungs, their car or house contaminated by cigarette smoke.
Smoking in bars and in restaurants is now unacceptable. It is therefore exciting to see the preliminary results of New Zealand’s first ever voluntarily smokefree outdoor dining pilot showing that an overwhelming majority of Cantabrians support smokefree outdoor dining. The project which was in partnership between the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board finished its pilot at the end of April. The pilot involved 20 restaurants, 18 of whom saw the project through. 95% of the 1,861 customers who gave feedback on the pilot project supported smokefree outdoor dining.
Martin Witt from the Cancer Society was surprised at how great the appetite was for a smokefree outdoor dining experience. The other surprise was how positively the change had been embraced by the businesses involved. After the six month pilot project, not one of the venues who completed the pilot project reported a decrease in customers and many venues commented that being completely smokefree has been good for business. The adoption of smokefree outdoor dining on a voluntary basis is an exciting development in our community. The results of the pilot show a continuing shift going on in our community and a willingness to adopt a new level of smokefree venues and thinking. The voluntary pilot project surely has created a mandate to ramp up the adoption of smokefree outdoors in facilities across the city. It would be a wonderful thing for Christchurch if such a change of behavior could be voluntarily adopted right across the city without the need for imposing a regulating bureaucracy and legislation to effect change.
As we continue to regenerate our city and the number of hospitality offerings continues to expand. It would demonstrate good leadership if existing and new hospitality offerings throughout the city could voluntarily opt to have smokefree outdoor dining. That would mean that we could all enjoy hospitality, drinking and eating indoors and outdoors in the knowledge that we would not be contaminated by other people’s smoke. It would also demonstrate that Christchurch has hospitality business owners who are prepared to run ahead of an inevitable trend towards a decreasing acceptance of smoking in places frequented by the public, for all of the right reasons.
I will be watching with great interest the next stage of this project. I applaud the Cancer Society Canterbury West Coast Division and the Canterbury District Health Board for taking the initiative to promote smokefree outdoor dining areas. I suspect the vast majority of our residents and visitors will embrace such change positively. I also suspect that those people who wish to continue to smoke will continue their habit in a way that has less and less impact on those of us who are desirous of enjoying a smokefree environment.