A new study on the prevalence of smoking among occupations considered to be role models for children and young adults has revealed a decline in smoking rates, plus which occupations might still need support to quit smoking. The study by the University of Otago, Wellington, focuses on role-model groups: teachers, uniformed services, health professionals, entertainers, sports and other public figures and professionals.
The study compares census smoking figures from 1981 with 2006 figures.
The most dramatic statistics revealed by the 2006 census were that almost half of all Kohanga Reo teachers smoked at that time.
The research also found that in 2006, about 10% or less of people in a role-model occupation smoked – compared with 22% for all employed people.
In 1981, 35% of employed people smoked.
However, some of the role-model occupations had very high smoking statistics, particularly Kohanga Reo teachers with 45% smoking, lead researcher Prof Richard Edwards said.
“Kohanga Reo stood out.
It’s possibly, I suspect, because of the nature of the work and Kohanga Reo teachers are presumably almost entirely Maori and that’s probably reflecting higher smoking among Maori in general,” he said.
There should be a particular focus on support for people to stop smoking in these role-model occupations in a bid to reduce smoking rates in New Zealand, he said.
“They are potentially influential role models on broader society and in particular, perhaps, children and young people.
“If they’re seen smoking, or the children know they’re smokers, they’re someone they look up to and it almost makes smoking a normal behaviour for them. And you really don’t want … these people smoking.”
He was not aware of any programmes in place to focus on encouraging quitting smoking in these role-model groups – apart from in the health sector.
“I am just concerned that … that person smoking has potentially more impact on the child than anyone else smoking, other than perhaps their parents and people in their family.
“So it seems to me a good reason for saying if we want to reduce, if you like, the normality of smoking in society and the degree to which children see smoking or are aware of smoking, teachers would be a pretty good place to start.”
In general, the rate of teachers smoking halved from 1981 to 2006.
There was no 1981 data to compare Kohanga Reo teachers with, because it was not a category then.
One positive message from the research was smoking rates were declining and it was possible to get figures right down, he said.
Less than 4% of doctors smoked while 3% of dietitians smoked.
Other occupations with high rates were prison officers, nurse aides, armed forces, social workers, hospital orderlies and ambulance officers, professional sports figures, teacher aides, actors, dancers and singers.
The study, published in the latest Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal, is believed, by its authors, to be the first research describing in detail smoking prevalence among a large number of individual occupations with a focus on the role-model groups.
The study said it was known that children tended to copy what they observed.
They were influenced by the normality and extent of smoking around them. People in particular occupations could act as role models for smoking acceptability, by virtue of their status and high visibility, or due to their positions of authority and influence, or both.
There were several implications of the findings for public health practice.
Prof Edwards noted that while overall the picture was very positive, some results were concerning, and further research would be useful to determine the reasons for the persistence of smoking in certain occupations, particularly in relation to Maori.