Background: Smokefree environments legislation is increasingly being implemented around the world. Evaluations largely find that the legislation is popular, compliance is high and report improved air quality and reduced exposure to secondhand smoke (SHS). The impact of the legislation on disadvantaged groups, including indigenous peoples has not been explored. We present findings from a multifaceted evaluation of the impact of the smokefree workplace provisions of the New Zealand Smokefree Environments Amendment Act on Māori people in New Zealand. Māori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. The Smokefree Environments Amendment Act extended existing smokefree legislation to almost all indoor workplaces in December 2004 (including restaurants and pubs/bars).
Methods: Review of existing data and commissioned studies to identify evidence for the evaluation of the new legislation: including attitudes and support for the legislation; stakeholders views about the Act and the implementation process; impact on SHS exposure in workplaces and other settings; and impact on smoking-related behaviours.
Results: Support for the legislation was strong among Māori and reached 90% for smokefree restaurants and 84% for smokefree bars by 2006. Māori stakeholders interviewed were mostly supportive of the way the legislation had been introduced. Reported exposure to SHS in workplaces decreased similarly in Māori and non-Māori with 27% of employed adult Māori reporting SHS exposure indoors at work during the previous week in 2003 and 9% in 2006. Exposure to SHS in the home declined, and may have decreased more in Māori households containing one or more smokers. For example, the proportion of 14-15 year old Māori children reporting that smoking occurred in their home fell from 47% in 2001 to 37% in 2007. Similar reductions in socially-cued smoking occurred among Māori and non-Māori. Evidence for the effect on smoking prevalence was mixed. Māori responded to the new law with increased calls to the national Quitline service.
Conclusion: The New Zealand Smokefree Environments Amendment Act had a range of positive effects, including reducing SHS exposure among Māori communities. If the experience is replicated in other countries with indigenous populations, it suggests that comprehensive smokefree environments legislation will have beneficial effects on the health of indigenous groups and could contribute to reducing inequalities in health within societies.