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.

Note to the Havelock North Inquiry – Think Big - Public Health Expert

Sep 26, 2016

Prof Alistair Woodward, A/Prof Simon Hales An Independent Inquiry is now investigating the cause of the water-borne outbreak caused by Campylobacter in Havelock North. In this blog we consider the background to this issue and argue the Inquiry must not miss the opportunity to think up-stream, on the scale of water catchments, agricultural economies and climate systems. “Alarming new threats to NZ’s drinking water” is the headline on the cover of a recent New Zealand Listener. It refers to the outbreak in August in Havelock North, in which more than 5000 people, a third of the population, became acutely ill after contamination of the town’s water supply with the organism Campylobacter, and which is now the subject of an Independent Inquiry. It certainly is alarming that so many people can become sick so quickly due to a failure … Read More

A policy and research agenda for roll-your-own tobacco - Public Health Expert

Sep 19, 2016

By Professor Janet Hoek, Professor Karine Gallopel-Morvan, Professor Richard Edwards, Professor Tony Blakely New Zealand’s Smokefree 2025 goal is now less than ten years away but we are unlikely to achieve this world-leading goal unless the Government introduces innovative new policies that reduce smoking prevalence (1). Existing measures have tackled different facets of tobacco marketing, with plain packaging reducing a potent form of tobacco marketing and excise tax increases making smoking less affordable. However, tobacco products themselves have received less attention. In this blog we outline findings from recent studies examining roll-your-own tobacco use and explore potential policy implications. Roll-your-own tobacco (RYO) has increased in popularity, largely due to its cost advantages, which have persisted despite efforts to reduce differences in the excise tax on RYO tobacco and tailor made (TM) cigarettes (2). Many New Zealand smokers now use loose … Read More

Perspective: Options for licensed retailing of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes in NZ - Public Health Expert

Sep 08, 2016

Professor Nick Wilson, Professor Janet Hoek, Frederieke Sanne van der Deen, Associate Professor George Thomson, Professor Richard Edwards The NZ Ministry of Health is currently consulting on options around making nicotine-containing e-cigarettes available in NZ. This Perspective Blog briefly examines possible pros and cons of two plausible licensed retail options: pharmacies and vape shops. It also highlights the need for a very well-considered approach, given consecutive NZ Governments’ poor track record in making policy to regulate addictive substances and reduce harm to public health. The Ministry of Health is inviting comment on a proposal to allow nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to be sold in New Zealand.* It appropriately covers many potential regulatory issues – but not the important ones of who should be able to sell such products and retailer licensing. In this Perspective Blog, we argue the … Read More

Cycling and walking in six NZ cities: Where are we at? - Public Health Expert

Sep 04, 2016

Dr Caroline Shaw, Dr Marie Russell On-road cycle lane Wellington. Photo credit: Jenny Ombler. Active transport is important for health and sustainability. But no one has previously looked systematically at how NZ cities support cycling and walking. Therefore, a new study has been performed and is now published online. This blog reports its main findings. Walking and cycling for transport, instead of using cars, is a sustainable (lower carbon emissions), egalitarian and, mostly, fun way of getting around. Many cities with high levels of cycling and walking, such as Amsterdam and Berlin, are exciting and dynamic places to live. The other benefits of ‘active transport’ (i.e. walking and cycling) are also well-known. Active transport is good for health, the environment and the economy (1-3). But how well are cities in NZ doing in this area? In this … Read More

Much scope for improvement: The NZ Health Research Strategy - Public Health Expert

Jul 18, 2016

By Professor Nick Wilson The Government deserves congratulations for coming up with a Health Research Strategy. But the current Discussion Document needs a firmer strategic outlook with greater coherence. In this Perspective Blog a simple SWOT analysis is conducted and an alternative Vision Statement is proposed. It makes a lot of sense for a country to have a health research strategy. It should make it easier for prioritising how best to target limited research funding and for the country to play to its strengths in a globalising world. So congratulations to the Government for kicking off this process and for inviting submissions (due by the end of this month) on its Discussion Document (1). Unfortunately the current version of this document has many problematic aspects – and it will need substantial additional work to make it more fit … Read More

The likely harm from e-cigarettes compared to tobacco - Public Health Expert

Jul 04, 2016

Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Coral Gartner, Prof Richard Edwards This blog considers recent studies in which the biomarker levels in e-cigarette users (vapers) are compared to those from tobacco smokers. The results are highly variable but all suggest lower levels of risk to vapers relative to tobacco smokers. Yet as the situation with vaping is very dynamic (new products, changing ways people vape) and there is no evidence yet about long-term effects of e-cigarette use on health outcomes, a lot more future research will be needed to get a reasonable understanding of the relative harms. Why focus on biomarker studies? Estimating the potential harm to health from using e-cigarettes is very complex given the ongoing changes and large diversity of e-cigarette products in the international market. How vapers actually use these products is also a likely determinant of what toxicants … Read More

Modifying homes to prevent falls is very cost-effective: new NZ study - Public Health Expert

Jun 13, 2016

By Prof Nick Wilson, Dr Giorgi Kvizhinadze, Dr Eamonn Deverall, Prof Tony Blakely A just published modelling study by the BODE3 Team has reported that “home safety assessment and modification” (e.g., adding hand rails and removing tripping hazards in homes) appears to be a very cost-effective health sector intervention. But even more cost-effective was targeting this intervention to older people with previous injurious falls. In this blog we take a closer look at this intervention and consider what policy-makers, NGOs and citizens might wish to consider doing in response to the evidence. The NZ Burden of Disease Study (NZBDS) reported that falls cause 10% of all the injury-related health loss in this country – in third place behind transport and self-inflicted injuries. For adults aged 65 years or over, falls are the most common cause of injury-related health loss, and … Read More

Tobacco tax increases: new model measures impact - Public Health Expert

May 30, 2016

By Frederieke Sanne van der Deen, Nick Wilson, Tony Blakely On Thursday the NZ Government announced it would continue it’s programme of yearly 10% tobacco tax increases for the years 2017 to 2020 inclusive. Using our peer-reviewed BODE3 forecasting model, we project that with these additional four years of tax increases smoking prevalence in 2020 will be 21.4% for Māori and to 8.9% for non-Māori – compared to a projected 22.7% and 9.3% if this taxation programme had not continued beyond January 2016. Prevalence reductions may be greater if we hit a ‘tipping point’ – our modelling necessarily uses responsiveness to tax seen in the past. Thus the further tax increases will help us get to a tobacco-free NZ by 2025, but more ‘endgame’ strategies are almost certainly also needed. Tobacco tax is the single most effective tool used by … Read More

Data Explorer Tool: 30 years of NZ mortality and cancer data - Public Health Expert

May 25, 2016

Dr George Disney, Dr Andrea Teng, Prof Nick Wilson, Prof Tony Blakely There are striking inequalities in cancer incidence and mortality in NZ, by both ethnicity and socioeconomic status. In this blog, we introduce an interactive online tool that enables anyone from researchers, policy-makers, journalists and health practitioners to access high quality data on these vital, population-level health statistics. Examples we use include: massive declines in cardiovascular disease inequality, but still large inequalities such as widening gaps in mortality for diseases consistent with the obesity epidemic; and the fact that adults aged 25-44 years with no formal qualifications have had very little mortality decline in the last 30 years, begging the question “Why?”. Striking inequalities in health in NZ In this country there are striking inequalities by ethnicity – for example, Māori life expectancy is 7 years less than … Read More

Worth its weight: Building Insulation in New Zealand - Public Health Expert

May 23, 2016

Dr Kimberley O’Sullivan   Building insulation provides comfort and health benefits to occupants, saves energy, enhances energy security, and can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This blog looks at these issues and wonders why the NZ Government is not doing more to enhance building performance and insulation standards when it is such a good investment. The recently proposed changes to the Residential Tenancies Act suggest that the NZ Government is still undervaluing the benefits of building performance and insulation standards. This is despite benefits from insulation that include providing comfort, protecting health, saving energy, enhancing energy security, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Minister of Building and Housing is arguing against improving building performance. He suggests that the health benefits of improving insulation in rental housing from 1978 standards to meet current 2008 standards for new … Read More