Pacific nurses’ role in tobacco dependence treatment

There are distinctive communities of Pacific Island diaspora in New Zealand, Australia and the United States. People from the Pacific straddle two cultures, with one foot in their adopted countries and the other in the lands of their forbears. Pacific nurses are no exception. Because of their shared experience, professional training, access to Pacific communities, and the respect with which they are held, they are ideally placed to deliver brief effective smoking cessation interventions to Pacific people.

Pacific nurses want to ensure that Pacific peoples are not over-represented in the remnant of smokers when New Zealand becomes smokefree in 2025. This concern is based on the disparity in smoking rates that currently exists.   The smoking rate of Pacific People (27%) is 10% higher than that of the European population (17%) (New Zealand Health Survey, 2012).

I worked with Pacific nurses and the Pacific health sector to create a nursing strategy for Pacific peoples to “live healthy and smokefree”. The vision is for Pacific nurses to “achieve equitable health outcomes for colleagues and Pacific peoples by reducing smoking in the Pacific population”. The strategy has five elements:

  • Raising awareness among Pacific nurses to normalise the non-smoking heritage of Pacific peoples;
  • Brief intervention training for registered Pacific nurses;
  • Research about best practice for Pacific peoples;
  • Support to work with Pacific nurses in the Pacific Islands
  • Smoking cessation education in Pacific undergraduate nursing programmes

In 2011, Pacific nurse leaders from the six countries which comprise the Pacific Nursing Section, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, expressed their commitment by attending a meeting to engage them in ‘talanoa’. Led by Siloma Masina (then Head of the Samoan Nurses Association of New Zealand and Chair of Pacific Nursing Section) and Eseta Finau (Head of the Tongan Nurses Association and currently Chair of the Pacific Nurses Section), the leaders identified strategies in which they would assist members, colleagues, clients, family and community to quit smoking.

The meeting was followed with applications to the Ministry of Health for funding to deliver the strategies. Although unsuccessful to date, efforts to secure funding are ongoing. They are spurred on by respect for the leadership and mana of Siloma Masina who made a public admission of her own smoking addiction and put herself forward as an example of a nurse prepared to quit smoking to lead the campaign.  Following Silomas’ death, the Pacific Nurses Section strives to continue the work Siloma started in support of the Smokefree Nurses Movement (Pacific Nursing Section, NZNO, 2012).

The Pacific Nursing Network actively promotes smoking cessation activity by nurses at every international South Pacific Nurses Forum (SPNF).   In 2008, the SPNF post-conference report acknowledged “the need to address tobacco control for Pacific people in the greater South Pacific region.  Nurses must take an active leadership role in advancing positive practice environments and shaping new solutions”.   Follow up discussion and reports of activities in smoking cessation and smokefree promotion have been shared at each forum since. This also includes Pacific nations call for support and sharing of resources from their colleagues abroad in countries such as New Zealand and Australia.  Furthermore, at the recent Oceania Tobacco Control Conference nurses highlighted the need to gain more momentum in the Pacific to raise awareness of tobacco control action.

New Zealand’s Bachelor of Nursing Pacific, programmes (at Whitireia NZ and Manukau Institute of Technology) offer comprehensive training to Pacific student nurses about smoking. This includes smokefree awareness, health promotion, nursing care of people with smoking related conditions, along with Pacific ABC smoking cessation training during their 3-year undergraduate programme.

Pacific nurses are uniquely positioned by the nature of their culture, language and ethnic Island’s interconnectedness via vast oceans and shores of the Pacific, to bring about effective collaboration among Pacific people.  In addition, their shared professional knowledge will make the greatest impact for each Pacific individual to eliminate smoking and tobacco, and for their families and future generations to “live healthy and smokefree”.

About the Author: Loma-Linda Tasi is a Nurse Lecturer and Year 2 Coordinator at Whitireia New Zealand

New Zealand Health Survey, 2012.