Public Health Expert

Professor Tony Blakely is an epidemiologist at the University of Otago, Wellington. He has an extensive portfolio of research. Tony initiated and implemented the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study (NZCMS) in the late 1990s, a pioneering study linking the national censuses with mortality data to allow monitoring and research on ethnic and socio-economic inequalities and the contribution of smoking to mortality (the NZ census periodically includes smoking). He has also led the parallel study, CancerTrends, that links census and cancer registration data to allow cancer incidence and survival studies.

NZ Should Prepare for a Potentially Severe Global Coronavirus Pandemic - Public Health Expert

Feb 10, 2020

Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Michael Baker In this blog we briefly summarise our assessment of the highly uncertain new coronavirus threat. Given its potential to become a severe and prolonged global pandemic, a precautionary response now means activating all components of our pandemic plan, with a particular focus on ‘keep it out’. NZ has many natural and institutional advantages in managing this major health and economic threat. Now is the time for maximum proactivity. There is much we still don’t know about the threat posed by this new coronavirus. It appears to be highly transmissible and is spreading rapidly in China with a doubling time of about a week, as reported on 31 January [1]. It also has a concerning case fatality risk (CFR) of perhaps a few percent (albeit less than SARS). However, the exact risk for people currently … Read More

A preventable measles epidemic: Lessons for reforming public health in NZ - Public Health Expert

Feb 05, 2020

Prof Michael Baker, Prof Nick Wilson, Louise Delany, Prof Richard Edwards, Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman The current national measles epidemic in New Zealand is amongst the largest we have experienced in the last 40 years. It can be linked to the problems created by long-term erosion and fragmentation of national public health capacity. Fortunately, the present Health and Disability System Review provides an opportunity to describe and build the kind of public health capacity needed to manage measles, pandemics and other population health threats. We argue for consolidating a range of dispersed public health activities into a strong national agency, Public Health Aotearoa, to take responsibility for the multiple public health challenges faced by NZ. Introduction The current measles epidemic affecting New Zealand (NZ) is the result of multiple systems failures over a decade or more. In this blog, we argue … Read More

Tobacco Excise Taxes and the Smokefree 2025 Goal: Some Ways Forward - Public Health Expert

Jan 16, 2020

Janet Hoek, Richard Edwards, George Thomson, Andrew Waa, Nick Wilson Debate over tobacco tax increases has intensified as research indicates potentially conflicting policy directions. On the one hand, excise tax increases continue to stimulate quit attempts among smokers yet, on the other hand, they may lead to financial hardship for some smokers and increase retail crime. In this blog, we explore how allocating a proportion of tobacco tax revenue to assist smokers, and funding other complementary measures, could help avoid unintended outcomes and support continuation of an effective policy intervention. As the last scheduled tobacco excise tax increase came into effect on 1 January 2020, critics called on the Government to stop increasing the cost of tobacco, a measure they argue causes unacceptable hardship to some smokers and pose risks to those selling tobacco products.  New Zealand First, a … Read More

Ten things we can learn from new smoking and vaping data about progress to Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 - Public Health Expert

Dec 17, 2019

Richard Edwards, Janet Hoek, Nick Wilson, Andrew Waa [All from Department of Public Heath, University of Otago, Wellington] New NZ Health Survey data show some encouraging recent reductions in smoking prevalence. However, progress remains inadequate to achieve the Smokefree Aotearoa 2025 goal and the government needs to take urgent action, particularly to reduce marked disparities for Māori and Pacific peoples. The data also show increased uptake of e-cigarettes/vaping over the last 3-4 years, but the contribution of vaping to helping achieve the smokefree goal is not yet clear.   Introduction This blog provides a summary of some key points from the 2018-19 NZ Health Survey (NZHS) data as available on the 2018-19 annual data explorer website (https://minhealthnz.shinyapps.io/nz-health-survey-2018-19-annual-data-explorer/). The figures reported are unadjusted prevalences [1] from NZHS surveys conducted in 2006/7 and annually from 2011/12 to 2018/19. For simplicity … Read More

Is Youth Vaping a Problem in New Zealand? - Public Health Expert

Dec 02, 2019

Professors Janet Hoek and Richard Edwards, Emeritus Professor Phil Gendall, Jude Ball, Dr Judith McCool, Anaru Waa, Dr Becky Freeman Recent media reports have presented conflicting evidence on youth vaping in NZ. While some NZ school principals report concerns about increasing vaping on school grounds and confiscating vapes, ASH Year 10 survey data have been interpreted as suggesting few young people who are non-smokers are vaping. How can these apparently contradictory perceptions co-exist? In this blog, we begin by outlining recent findings on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and their potential contribution to public health. We then explore possible explanations for why reports and perceptions about youth vaping sometimes differ and offer suggestions about how this behaviour needs to be more effectively monitored. ENDS’ impact on population health Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) deliver nicotine to smokers using a … Read More

New Zealand’s Poor Pandemic Preparedness According to the Global Health Security Index - Public Health Expert

Nov 11, 2019

Dr Matt Boyd, Prof Michael Baker, Prof Nick Wilson The Global Health Security Index which considers pandemic threats has just been published. Unfortunately, NZ scores approximately half marks (54/100), coming in 35th in the world rankings – far behind Australia. This poor result suggests that the NZ Government needs to act promptly to upgrade the country’s defences against pandemic threats. The Global Health Security Index (GHSI) The GHSI is the first ‘comprehensive assessment and benchmarking of health security and related capabilities across the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations’ [1]. The philosophy behind the index is that all countries must not only prioritise capabilities to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health emergencies, but that countries must also have a robust health system, be compliant with international norms, and work to improve … Read More

Retailing of vaping products – New NZ Research - Public Health Expert

Nov 07, 2019

Dr Lindsay Robertson, Dr Jerram Bateman, Professor Janet Hoek Members of the public health community hold divergent views on how access to vaping products or electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) products should be arranged. Some believe ENDS should be as widely available as smoked tobacco and argue for liberal access. However, others suggest smoked tobacco should be much less available than is currently the case and propose that only retailers skilled in supporting smoking cessation should sell ENDS. In this blog, we probe concerns about allowing widespread availability of ENDS and related products. We first draw on related research into smoked tobacco products and then discuss findings from our recently published study that questions the wisdom of allowing ENDS to be sold by non-specialist retailers. Proposed ENDS regulation The Associate Minister of Health responsible for tobacco has announced that, … Read More

“Action for Healthy Waterways”: Some big ticket actions that the Government has neglected - Public Health Expert

Oct 31, 2019

Prof Nick Wilson, A/Prof George Thomson, A/Prof Simon Hales, Prof Michael Baker The NZ Ministry for the Environment has produced a valuable discussion document with many good ideas for improving the health of waterways in New Zealand. But there are important gaps. In this blog we consider three big-ticket items to include in an integrated strategy to improve our waterways: a fertiliser tax, taxing ruminant animal products, and promoting the right sort of reforestation with a high carbon price. Introduction As we recently pointed out, the health of waterways has important health and cultural impacts for people in Aotearoa/NZ [1]. Fortunately, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has produced a detailed discussion document [2], which has many good ideas around protecting and improving the health of NZ’s waterways. In particular, the overarching concept of Te Mana o te Wai, … Read More

Protecting Fresh Waterways in Aotearoa/NZ: The Strong Public Health Case - Public Health Expert

Oct 17, 2019

Nick Wilson, Leah Grout, Mereana Wilson, Anja Mizdrak, Phil Shoemack, Michael Baker Protecting waterways has the benefits of: (1) protecting water from hazardous microbes; (2) minimising cancer risk and other problems from nitrates in water; (3) avoiding algal blooms that are hazardous to health; (4) protecting mahinga kai uses (cultural importance and food security); (5) facilitating safe recreational water use; (6) minimising flooding risks from silted up waterways; and (7) protecting renewable energy from waterway sediments. In this blog we briefly consider these issues and why health workers and agencies should now do submissions on protecting waterways to the Ministry for the Environment, as part of a current consultation process which ends on 31 October.   Introduction  The NZ Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has recently published a discussion document, titled “Action for healthy waterways” [1]. As part of developing … Read More

Not forgetting the benefits to youth and non-smokers – an example from increases in tobacco taxes - Public Health Expert

Sep 09, 2019

Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Richard Edwards, Prof Janet Hoek Tobacco control’s focus on supporting smokers to quit, thus reducing the harm they face (e.g., via appropriately regulated access to e-cigarettes) remains important. However, we need to do more to protect youth and non-smokers from the burden of tobacco. In this blog we use the issue of tobacco tax increases to show the potentially large benefits to youth and non-smokers – as well as to smokers who quit. Policy-makers need to take a broad view of how tobacco control policies impact on society so that progress to the country’s Smokefree 2025 goal is accelerated. Introduction Debates about which interventions and policies to implement to reduce smoking prevalence often focus on the potential impacts (positive or negative) on smokers. This is understandable as it is smokers who suffer most immediately from … Read More