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Open Access Research article

Public, private and personal: Qualitative research on policymakers' opinions on smokefree interventions to protect children in 'private' spaces

Gareth Rouch1, George Thomson1*, Nick Wilson1, Sheena Hudson1, Richard Edwards1, Heather Gifford2 and Tolotea Lanumata1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Otago, Wellington; Box 7343 Wellington, New Zealand

2 Whakauae Research Services; Box 102 Whanganui, New Zealand

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BMC Public Health 2010, 10:797  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-10-797

Published: 31 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Governments use law to constrain aspects of private activities for purposes of protecting health and social wellbeing. Policymakers have a range of perceptions and beliefs about what is public or private. An understanding of the possible drivers of policymaker decisions about where government can or should intervene for health is important, as one way to better guide appropriate policy formation. Our aim was to identify obstacles to, and opportunities for, government smokefree regulation of private and public spaces to protect children. In particular, to seek policymaker opinions on the regulation of smoking in homes, cars and public parks and playgrounds in a country with incomplete smokefree laws (New Zealand).

Methods

Case study, using structured interviews to ask policymakers (62 politicians and senior officials) about their opinions on new smokefree legislation for public and private places. Supplementary data was obtained from the Factiva media database, on the views of New Zealand local authority councillors about policies for smokefree outdoor public places.

Results

Overall, interviewees thought that government regulation of smoking in private places was impractical and unwise. However, there were some differences on what was defined as 'private', particularly for cars. Even in public parks, smoking was seen by some as a 'personal' decision, and unlikely to be amenable to regulation. Most participants believed that educative, supportive and community-based measures were better and more practical means of reducing smoking in private places, compared to regulation.

Conclusions

The constrained view of the role of regulation of smoking in public and private domains may be in keeping with current political discourse in New Zealand and similar Anglo-American countries. Policy and advocacy options to promote additional smokefree measures include providing a better voice for childrens' views, increasing information to policymakers about the harms to children from secondhand smoke and the example of adult smoking, and changing the culture for smoking around children.