Public Health Expert

Nitrate contamination in drinking water and adverse birth outcomes: emerging evidence is concerning for NZ - Public Health Expert

May 24, 2021

Dr Tim Chambers, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Simon Hales, Prof Michael Baker*   While there is growing evidence that nitrates in drinking water are a risk factor for bowel cancer, there is also emerging evidence concerning adverse birth outcomes such as prematurity. This blog takes a brief look at this new evidence and puts it into a NZ context. Nitrate is one of the most common drinking water contaminants in NZ, largely driven by agricultural activity (nitrogen fertiliser application and livestock urine). Nitrate leached into water from dairy farming has increased substantially since 1990 (see Figure 1). Recent studies linking nitrate levels as low as 0.87 mg/L NO3-N (from here on simply mg/L) in drinking water to bowel cancer have raised public concerns over nitrate contamination.1-3 Our recent study of the current nitrate levels in NZ drinking water showed as … Read More

Social Marketing for Smokefree Aotearoa 2025: Reminding, Reinforcing, and Changing Social Norms - Public Health Expert

May 21, 2021

Janet Hoek, Andrew Waa, Nick Wilson, Lindsay Robertson, Phil Gendall, George Thomson* The NZ Government’s Action Plan to realise the Smokefree 2025 goal has signalled a more important role for social marketing. Social marketing can facilitate and reinforce population-level behaviour change introduced by new policies, thus modifying social norms, which also support long-term improvements in health outcomes. In this blog, we consider the role of social marketing in supporting the Smokefree 2025 goal and review strategies the Government could implement.   Social marketing has several important roles. First, it may deter people from unhealthy behaviours, such as smoking, by promoting alternative new behaviours; as these become established, they embed new social norms. Second, it may sway opinion by exposing industry practices, such as how tobacco companies deceived and then blamed people who smoke for the harms they experienced; this reframing … Read More

The Case for Banning Cigarette Filters: Addressing a Consumer Fraud, Smoking Decoy and Environmental Hazard - Public Health Expert

May 17, 2021

Janet Hoek, Phil Gendall, Tom Novotny, Nick Wilson, Lindsay Robertson, Richard Edwards, James F Thrasher (*Author details) The Government’s proposed Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 Action Plan sets out a perceptive vision for reducing smoking prevalence and ensuring that, once the goal is reached, future generations will remain smokefree. Among the evidence-based measures set out, the plan includes proposals to “make smoked tobacco products less addictive and less appealing”. In this blog, we examine the Government’s specific proposal to prohibit filters and disallow innovations, additives, and other product changes that sustain the appeal and addictiveness of smoked tobacco products.   How did filters become an integral component of cigarettes? Cigarettes initially had no filters. Historians suggest filters were first introduced to create a barrier between the tobacco in a cigarette stick and a smoker’s mouth (though cigarette holders … Read More

Phasing out smoking: The Tobacco-Free Generation policy - Public Health Expert

May 14, 2021

Jude Ball, Jon Berrick, Richard Edwards, Janet Hoek, Frederieke Petrovic-van der Deen* The NZ Government has published a discussion document outlining an Action Plan for achieving the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal and invited submissions. This blog is one of a series examining key aspects of the plan to help inform the debate and submissions. Here we examine the ‘Tobacco-free generation’ policy (TFG), which provides a mechanism to protect future generations from tobacco harm and, over time, to phase out tobacco sales entirely. What’s the issue here? The Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the obligation of governments to safeguard the health of the population. It’s time to address the smoking pandemic, since ‘cigarettes kill more people each year than AIDS, heroin, crack, cocaine, alcohol, car accidents, fire, and murder combined’. Two key facts about smoking are that: … Read More

SARS-CoV-2: A modern Greek Tragedy? - Public Health Expert

May 13, 2021

By Dr Matt Boyd, Blog Syndicated from Adapt Research Despite a WHO-led investigation, compelling evidence on the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus remains inconclusive. The WHO investigation concluded in favour of a natural origin, being satisfied that ‘asking whatever questions we wanted’ and obtaining answers to these questions ruled out a laboratory leak. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology stated that they do not keep similar viruses to SARS-CoV-2, and they have appropriate safety training (while not divulging actual laboratory records). Skeptics of the natural origin theory, on the other hand, say they wouldn’t trust the outcome of the investigation because it was closely overseen by China’s government. In fact a new report just published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists argues in favour of the lab leak theory citing publicly available records of gain-of-function coronavirus research at the Wuhan … Read More

Australia’s Quarantine Systems Failures: Lessons for NZ - Public Health Expert

May 12, 2021

Dr Leah Grout, Ameera Katar, Dr Jennifer Summers, Prof Nick Wilson (*Author details) Aotearoa NZ and Australian states have successfully eliminated community transmission of COVID-19, albeit with occasional outbreaks from imported cases. Both countries have primarily used hotel-based quarantine for returning travellers, but still do not have optimal border control. In this blog we consider potential lessons from Australia’s 17 quarantine systems failures for NZ. Overall, NZ and Australia have done very well with their COVID-19 pandemic responses and they are ranked 2nd and 9th in the world, respectively, by the Lowy Institute in Australia.1 The rollout of vaccination programmes, starting with border workers, has been a favourable development in recent months. NZ and Australia have both primarily used hotel-based quarantine for citizens returning to their countries during the pandemic period, with 14 days of quarantine combined with … Read More

Reducing tobacco retail availability: counterarguments to industry claims - Public Health Expert

May 10, 2021

Lindsay Robertson, Janet Hoek, Richard Edwards, George Thomson, Louise Marsh (*Author details) The NZ Government’s Discussion Document outlines an Action Plan for the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal and proposes substantially reducing the number of retailers selling tobacco. In this blog, we examine arguments that interest groups have advanced to oppose these proposals and review the evidence relating to those claims. We find that predictions of dire economic consequences for small retailers are not consistent with independent research evidence and may serve to advance tobacco companies’ interests.   Introduction Achieving a substantial reduction in the number of outlets selling tobacco is likely to improve population health and decrease health inequities by reducing smoking uptake and creating environments that support quitting (see earlier blog here). The Government’s proposals aim to address the glaring anomaly that allows a consumer … Read More

Reducing tobacco retail availability: how could this be achieved and what evidence supports the NZ Government’s proposals? - Public Health Expert

May 06, 2021

Lindsay Robertson, Janet Hoek, Richard Edwards, Frederieke Petrović-van der Deen, George Thomson, Louise Marsh (*Author details) The NZ Government has published a Discussion Document outlining an Action Plan for the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal. This blog is one of a series examining key aspects of the plan to help inform the debate and submissions. Here we examine the proposals to reduce the retail availability of tobacco products and find these have a good evidence base. Along with additional measures outlined in the proposals, reducing tobacco retail availability could allow NZ to realise the large health gains, cost-savings, and health equity-benefits of reaching the Smokefree goal. In a separate blog that will be published soon, we examine arguments opposing proposals to reduce tobacco availability, and review the evidence on which these arguments draw.   Introduction Easier access to tobacco retailers … Read More

Improving NZ Government Communication about COVID-19: Five Suggestions Including a Proposal for Depoliticisation - Public Health Expert

May 03, 2021

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Jennifer Summers, Dr Leah Grout, Dr Amanda Kvalsvig The high quality communication by the NZ Government for much of the COVID-19 pandemic has been remarked on. But given that the pandemic situation is very far from over, in this blog we consider five areas in which potential improvements could be made. Potentially the most important of these would be to further depoliticise the COVID-19 response.   Overall, Aotearoa NZ has done very well with its COVID-19 pandemic response and it is typically ranked in the top few performing countries.1 2 NZ’s economic indicators, such as GDP impacts, also compare favourably to other countries using the less successful “suppression” strategy against the pandemic.3 4 Furthermore, the communication by leaders such as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been noted for its level of engagement and high quality both … Read More

Reducing nicotine in smoked tobacco products: A pivotal feature of the proposals for achieving Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 - Public Health Expert

Apr 30, 2021

Richard Edwards, Janet Hoek, Nick Wilson, Chris Bullen * The NZ Government has published a discussion document outlining an Action Plan for the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal and has invited submissions on its proposals. This blog is one of a series examining key aspects of the plan to help inform the debate and submissions. Here we examine the proposal to reduce the nicotine in smoked tobacco products to very low levels. We conclude this strategy is likely to have a profound impact on smoking prevalence and, if implemented as part of a comprehensive plan, gives a realistic prospect of achieving a Smokefree Aotearoa.   Why reduce nicotine to very low levels? The action plan proposes reducing nicotine in smoked tobacco products to very low levels and mandating that these are the only smoked tobacco products available for sale in … Read More