Elspeth was a 62-year-old New Zealand woman of Scottish heritage, living in a small rural town when we first met her.


Smoking - it was ingrained in my upbringing that it was unacceptable. My parents were Brethren, so they didn’t smoke.  They weren’t anti, but around family it was just a given ‘no’. I’m what you’d call a considerate smoker because I always assumed that other people could have the same sorts of issues about it being unacceptable. So, I tended not to smoke around others, to not offend or cause any harm or distress to anybody else. For me, there was never really an open acceptability of smoking. It’s way more reinforced now, of course, by legislation and bysocial pressure, and maybe rightly so. I don’t have an opinion about it, really.

I tend to smoke if I’m concentrating, so if I’m studying, or reading and it needs deep concentration. If I’m in a social situation, or in a conversation, with people, I don’t smoke as much because they - I don’t know - take my attention, or, I’m involved or I don’t want to miss something. So, I’m a sad, lonely single smoker ha ha.

It’s been 30 something years now – it’s just become part and parcel of me.

I think I smoke more now (between 10 and 20 a day) than when I started. It’s gone through phases. Whenever I was overseas, I didn’t like the cigarettes so I didn’t smoke at all. They didn’t have the menthol I like. So, it just became, no, I can’t be arsed. But, as soon as I hit the airport, got my brand, well… I’m crap at rolling my own, so I smoke tailor-mades, a kind of middle-of-the-road menthol brand.  It just has a different sensation that, for me, just became a habit. Same when I had a month in hospital, in rehab years ago - and more recently after the accident - never smoked, never wanted to.  As soon as I got out, I smoked. 

This last time, in hospital, they did ask me: did I want patches? I didn’t. My doctor asked if I was interested in any kind of cessation. He said, “I’m not gonna give you a lecture, you’re bright enough to work it out”. I said, “Yeah, I am”. I think he was respectful. The offer was there at any time if I wanted to. He never harped on about it.    

Bans on smoking 

The last place I worked was a health organisation. My work took immense concentration - which is normally when I would smoke. That there were people around, mitigated it. If I was going to have a smoke, say in the lunch break, I literally would go and hide somewhere that wasn’t visible to them or to anyone else, which tended to be at the back of buildings. In my case, the office was next door to a brothel, so I’d go and have a quick smoke with the girls.

I understand why there are some bans on where you can smoke, like pubs and places - people don’t want to be forced into a smoke-filled environment. Most have accommodated that in the hospitality sector by having some outside areas. So long as that is provided, I’m perfectly happy with that. Likewise, in public parks and places.  Although, I do think there should be a closed off, or not visible, area that people can pop in and out of, if it’s about visibility - like Disneyland has. There should be comfortable covered areas and there should be ashtrays so the poor buggers just trying to have a smoke are not standing in the wind and pissing rain.


Cigarettes are certainly more expensive. I’m very conscious of that. I know if I couldn’t afford it, I wouldn’t, that’s just the reality. I went through a period of being a little more careful, asking myself, do I really need one now? Or,  shall I leave it till the next break or the next? I did that for some time and then it just got to the point of, oh, screw it!

I’m really mixed on it. I think the high prices do work for probably a fair bit of the population, but the government needs to think about all of the tax they take and use it to counter-balance some of the other effects. There’s an underground market, and the robberies from dairies. People I know, in the 20’s age group, they mostly buy through what has been stolen.

I think they just haven’t made smoking unlawful because there’s simple income to be made of it. And the Smokefree 2025 goal – apart from leaving me traumatised ha ha, it’s unrealistic. I certainly support not encouraging anyone to smoke, don’t get me wrong there. But, there’s plenty of evidence on all kinds of fronts, that if they attempt to ban things, there will always be another market.   


My smoking probably increased during lockdown, but not a lot. I had been kind of trapped in the house for so long because of the accident and was starting to go out a lot more and do a lot more things, and drive and I don’t smoke in the car. Because you’re out and you’re doing things, smoking isn’t really much of an option.  

I did go and buy bulk. I did go to online grocery shopping which I had been doing anyway while I was stuck in a wheelchair.  Countdown was the only one that would deliver. But they have just limited how many packs of cigarettes you can buy! Before lockdown, they’d let you buy as many packets or cartons as you wanted. I used to buy fortnightly and get a carton. Now I have to buy individual packets and I think it’s only three. I wondered if it was about the safety of the van drivers – protecting them from being robbed? It seems to vary by supermarket. Some won’t sell cigarettes online. But, they’ll sell alcohol.



2 months later...

I’ve got sniffles but who hasn’t. Never mind. Nothing has changed. I still have my first cigarette within probably half an hour of waking. I get up, sort myself out, make a coffee, then have it. 

The cost

It’s getting touch and go, but I make sure I can still buy them. The cost is a factor, but it’s okay for me. I know it’s not for plenty of other people. But if there’s one thing that starts to niggle, that would be it – it’s a lot of money. It’s $150 normally for about a week and a half, and I buy bulk. 

Quit attempts?

It’s been a pattern since I started, it’s just normal to me. If I can’t smoke, or there’s just no longing to, it’s not an issue - I just don’t smoke. There’s no withdrawals. There’s no, you know, I desperately want to, or anything like that. I never have had that.

I didn’t smoke when I was overseas – just didn’t like the brands. It happened when I was in America and in the UK. I didn’t like them there and that was a good 6 months.

It happened when I had my accident and ended up in hospital. I’d broken everything from my hip down to my ankle. It was quite painful. The first time I was in hospital for 2 and a half weeks. And yeah, I didn’t smoke at all. It didn’t bother me in the least. They thought they’d fixed me so they wanted me up and moving around. I didn’t feel the need to smoke. I was probably full of morphine, ha ha. Certainly, if there had been any longing to smoke, that would’ve killed that.

The second time I went in was longer, and there was a gap of about 3 weeks in between when I was at home. In that year, combining the times, I probably didn’t smoke for 6 weeks. There was only one night after dinner when I thought oh, I could do with a cigarette, but it was a passing thought and went. 

I think for me it’s just a common thing that I do. If I either don’t want to, or I don’t like the brand or can’t get what I usually have, then I think nah, can’t be arsed really. It’s not doing what I need it to, so I just don’t smoke.

When I start again, there’s no sudden rush to my head or any of that exciting stuff. It’s just as though I’d never stopped.

Quit campaigns

I’ve seen one new ad on TV about Quitline, about access, about whānau. I can’t remember much more than that but I tend to zone out the ads. I think they all are effective to some extent. And it’s good to know that support is there for those who want to access it. Other than that, it’s just another ad.

I haven’t heard anything else about not smoking, other than Helen Clark’s recent interview. She said one of her greatest achievements as Prime Minister was introducing smoke-free in the workplace and reducing smoking. I thought it was a very interesting thing to pick as your greatest achievement, ha ha. It’s been a fairly long-term thing if I remember rightly. I mean, she herself is well researched, she certainly put the argument forward well.  I understood what she was doing. A lot of it I think was common sense, particularly for workplaces – lots and lots of really good steps there. It’s just not something I can get passionate about, but she did.

But for anti-smokers it almost seems an obsession with the act of smoking and the consequences and all that, rather than being about the people. The few people I’ve spoken to that are really passionate about smokefree, it’s more about the act of it than it is about a more balanced approach.

It would be more effective if it kind of touches people, as opposed to going on about this disgusting act. Then you just go, “Oh piss off”. Ha ha.

If somebody said I needed to give up smoking, if it was a need, I’d be yeah, okay. It’d have to be a big need, like, I’m going to die tomorrow. It would have to be something in my head that just said nah, that’s enough. It wouldn’t be to make anybody else happy. 

Tried vaping? 

I tried vaping. I didn’t particularly like it. I probably just didn’t get the hang of it, if the truth be known. If someone bought me one and taught me how to do it properly, I’d be interested. All I seemed to get was stuff in my eyes, ha ha. Anyway, there’s no vape shops – it’s a rural town. Not a lot of people vape here.

I read some very unbalanced things about the vaping law they passed. I don’t remember which MP or whoever it was. They were saying it was too late, and that it should’ve been stopped from the start, that kind of thing. Yeah, again, it’s more about the act. I don’t think anything I read was about harm. It was just more about this is wrong. It was a moral stance.

I think they should be talking about the impact of smoking on others. It should be more about social harm reduction if you like, rather than focused on individual harm. 

The ban on smoking in cars with minors present

I haven’t smoked with children in the car. If I need to smoke when children are in the car, I’ll stop and get out. I’ve always done that, so that law’s not going to bother me.

I think over time it’ll be effective, not immediately, and not for everyone. It’ll be a little bit like teaching us to wear seatbelts and not use cell phones.  It’s one of those slow changes that just becomes part and parcel of a norm – that you don’t do that. But I don’t think it will happen instantly.


4 months later…

Nothing’s changed about my smoking. After I’m up, made coffee, got breakfast on for the little one and sat down with my coffee, it’s probably 35 minutes.

The cost

It’s not an issue yet, but I know it will be at some point. It’ll be a bit of both – I’ll have less income and I think they’ll bring the tax increases back in. They might have stopped them during COVID, and rightly so, but they’ll bring them back in because they lost the bloody dope referendum. So, they lost that other income-tax stream that might have caused them to leave the rest of us alone. 

What if menthol was banned?

Would I still smoke? No, I wouldn’t. It’s really simple, I don’t actually like other stuff. Tobacco per se doesn’t do it for me. So, if I don’t have menthol, I have no interest. I can’t really explain it. It’s not that I can say it’s pepperminty or it’s wonderful or it’s whatever. In my younger days they were girls’ cigarettes.  Boys did the hard stuff, we did the pretty little, peppermint-smelly stuff. Tobacco was boys’ shit. Girls had menthol ’cause they were seen as something less and prettier. It was incredibly gender based.

Should vaping products be taxed?

Oh my God! That would be absolutely appalling! If you want people to move from smoking to vaping, you need to make vaping the easier option. And what makes something the easiest option is – for many people – that it’s cheaper. I’m not denying there may be other side effects. But why would you do that instead of giving encouragement? 

I’m really stunned that the Greens would suggest that. Why would they do that? I would have thought you’d do everything to make this the health issue it is. The health issue is to reduce smoking: you can’t eliminate it, but you can make it an easier, less harmful option. That was their whole campaign on dope. Why don’t they do it on smoking? Let’s do less harmful things and make that an easier option than this.  And make it the health issue it should rightly be.

It’s the money. It’s as simple as that. They’re losing taxes on all kinds of things, so what’s easy? I’m gonna say, punish the poor.

Tried vaping?

No ’cause I don’t know how to. Someone teach me how to do it and I might try it. 

Smokefree 2025

They’re committed to getting the country smokefree, I understand that. And, I have never encouraged nor supported anyone else to smoke in my life. But they’ll go as far as they’re doing to get dope-free. You know, pass the law and it’ll be back to usual the very next day.

Legalising cannabis

I’m gutted about the cannabis referendum result. That’s just so daft. I do think it will happen eventually. The Government can’t ignore the referendum. What they’ll do is tell the Police to stop prosecuting. I think there’ll be that subtle shift. It wasn’t won, but they’ll just move away from the really horrible prosecution stuff. That will take a wee bit of time, but I think, well, it is happening.



6 months later...

I’m probably smoking a bit less than I was. I only notice that in terms of what I’m buying. That’s also partly ’cause I’ve had three kids here. So I’m really conscious of that and a) they take up time. There’s loads of dishes, getting meals on, getting them finished, and then there’s the next one, they’re hungry. Equally importantly, I’ve been really conscious of going out of the house to smoke. There have been days that’s not true, when I have smoked more than I ought. I’m only conscious of it based on that I’m not buying as many packets.

But I’m still smoking the same brand of menthol. I still have the same routine – get up, make a coffee, put the dishes on and have my first cigarette at probably 30 to 45 minutes after getting up.

Tried vaping?

Well, funnily enough, I’ve actually had a friend who vapes, and she’s got one of the little ones. I had a try on that, and I didn’t find it too horrendous.  So, she’s going to send through to me what she’s got, and I might give vaping a go.

When I came out of hospital, this woman was a caregiver.  She’s about my age and we got on really well and we kept in touch. She smoked and my place was one of the few houses that she could clean and then have a smoke and a cup of coffee with me. About 8 months ago, she switched to vaping. She did both for a while. She found vaping didn’t quite do it for her. But now she’s completely vaping. It was someone showing me how it works, how to do it, and explaining that you can get different levels of what you need and the little liquid mixtures and how you put it all together. It was as simple as a science lesson, if you like.

She had a spare little vape thing with her. She set it all up for me and just talked me through it. After a wee while I thought, it’s actually not too bad. I had tried before, but I didn’t really know what I was doing and didn’t like all the steamy bits. Whereas this has literally none and it was smaller than the other vape things. I thought I could manage that, ’cause I hadn’t really looked ’cause I didn’t know what I was looking for.

So, she’s teaching me. Our local dairy has set up a whole little cabinet of vaping machines and things, and now that I vaguely know what I’m doing, when she sends it through to me I’ll give it a go, I really will.  And, when I screw it up and get it wrong, she can help me without me feeling like a prize idiot. She was brutally honest and said for her it took a wee while to transition and to get the hang of it. It wasn’t awkward. Like, I’d feel like a right numpty having to go and ask someone ’cause anyone who vapes seems to know what they’re doing. And all I could do was watch and think I wonder how that really works.

A factor for her was saving money. It wasn’t the sole factor. She said she would’ve still carried on smoking, no matter what, because it kept her sane. But someone showed her and yeah, she’s now showed me. That made a huge difference for me. It was not me trying to fumble along on my own, but being able to have a try with someone who’s going to answer questions. Someone who doesn’t make you feel stupid.

Can still afford cigarettes?

Yes, but it’s just gone up again by 1.4 percent. It’s the government just going, “We’ll just increase and increase and increase it.” I don’t mind if it’s effective to put it up to stop smoking, and it does appear to be from what I’ve read – for some people. But what it means is, it just becomes indirect.

I am rethinking my smoking. It wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking about it beforehand, but you just get to, oh god, here we go again.  And so it is making me rethink it, but I haven’t actioned it, put it that way.

I am getting increasingly resentful about the cost. Look, I understand the carrot and the stick.  But I think all the stick is effectively doing is increasing theft and black market. That’s an appalling phrase, isn’t it – the underground market.  And so, I think an awful lot is a little bit disguised about how many are and aren’t smoking.

I’m just thinking it’s a waste of money. I mean it’s not that I can’t afford it. It’s come to a decision of do I want to? I guess, yeah, that’s the difference. I think you just get hit with another increase and it just brings it to the front of your brain for a while. How long it stays there, who knows? I do think maybe it’s just getting older – it makes you go do I really need this? No. So why am I doing it?

Plain packaging

To be honest, I haven’t noticed any change in the packaging. I ask by brand, so I don’t actually notice that other packages have changed or that there’s any particular difference.  The pictures are still as ghastly, and of course they should be. The staff still don’t like when I say, “Oh, can I have the one that harms children today?” – ha ha. You should be able to pick your own warning. “Today I want the one with rotting toes” – ha ha.

I think its colour branding now. There’s tiny branding where it says the brand. But the actual colours of the old packets are exactly the same. It looks like the same packet colour-wise that it was before. I have been to places that don’t have the brand I want and I’ve asked, “Do you have any other menthol?” And their colour branding is still whatever their make was.



8 months later…

Switching to vaping 

I’m doing a little bit of vaping. I’m still smoking while I’m getting used to it. I’m learning to vape.

It wasn’t for my health. I thought, I need to stop this but I can’t do it instantly. Well, I did that in hospital and other places - I don’t have deep cravings. I just thought, if I could get a plan in place where, yes, the first cigarette in the morning is the cigarette, but beyond that it’s vaping. Now it will take to mid-afternoon before I say, “Yeah I want an actual cigarette”. So, it’s about slowly reducing. This sounds bizarre, but the spaces between are getting longer.

The plan is I will do this on the 50/50 for some weeks, and then I’ll stop smoking and go on to vaping entirely. I’m trying to monitor getting the vaping up and the cigarettes out. My mindset was, don’t do something stupid like go 100% because that isn’t going to work. Like, you can’t just cut this off and do that. I thought, take your time, be realistic, do this slowly to where I’m comfortable. And it’s working.

Vaping has cut down my smoking enormously. I’m down to about 15 cigarettes a day. That’s about half vaping and half smoking.

It’s good, it’s just not perfect. It doesn’t give the same feeling, and that’s okay –I’m happy to change. When I vape, it’s sufficient – but I don’t get the zingy bit. It’s similar, sufficient, but not the same.

The only thing I don’t like about vaping is flavour. They don’t have the flavour like cigarettes. But it is working.

Support to switch?

A friend introduced me to it. But there’s nobody in the world supporting me. Nobody likes me.



10 months later…

I’m now vaping about 50% and smoking about 50%. I got this nice little vape for my birthday.  It is a minty menthol-y one and I like it. It still makes me cough a bit. But I learnt how to do it. So, I’m transitioning to vaping.

I liked it and someone showed me how to use it – so every other time, rather than have a cigarette, I do vape and it seems to be working great. I thought it would be too difficult to just go there, but I’m actively cutting down and it’s actually okay.

Reasons for transitioning to vaping

It’s probably mostly financial and a bit of health, and a bit of, I can do this.

I just had to learn how to do it. Before, I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t know how to put it together. What I had to learn is the different inhaling process, ’cause initially the vape just made me cough. I’ve had to learn to do that a little bit differently and now it’s great. Well, I don’t cough anyway.

My ex-husband got me one for my birthday and he took the time to show me how to do it. It’s a nice little black slim one. And it’s got the right flavour. What I needed to have is the taste. I didn’t like the flavours I was trying, they were all kind of like flowers or lemongrass, and I’m thinking, no, yuck. But this one is a nice, minty, menthol-y flavour and it works.

He moved to vaping a while ago and he just has the occasional cigarette. I did say, I can’t do it all at once, so initially it was a couple of times then it was yeah, that’s alright, that’s doing it. 

I still have a cigarette in the morning first, then I’d go to vaping. And then somewhere, maybe mid-afternoon, I go back to the cigarette. It’s a little bit of a mix. 

How to better support switching from smoking to vaping

I think there should be vaping lessons online. I really mean that. Because it’s hard if you don’t know how to do it. It’s a different inhaling process – slightly.  And you need to know what all the little buttons mean. That’s probably what put me off. And no one’s going to show you. It’s not like encouraging people to vape – it’s just a better option to smoking.

My ex-husband, who stopped smoking and went onto vaping, saw his doctor last week. She asked him how his stopping smoking went, and he said he was vaping, and she said, “God bless you.  So, there is a changing acceptance that vaping’s a better option. He did the 50/50 and I’m following him on the 50/50, then bring it down, bring it down, bring it down. I’m not buying nearly the same amount of cigarettes. I now have them as kind of half a day backup. And if I don’t feel the urge for that, and vaping does it – then it does it. It’s a step, and I was going to be realistic. Do it slowly, get used to it, get the hang of it – and I’m not displeased with how it’s going. I never thought I’d go 100 percent initially. I know occasionally I should smack my hand and say, you vape now. But, generally it’s going pretty well. 


Attitude towards proposed Smokefree policies 

Banning filters

I think that would be really shitty. And I don’t think it would stop anyone from smoking. So why would they do that?  

Only allowing low or no nicotine tobacco

Obviously, nicotine is why you smoke. I don’t think it would change the habit. For me it’s a habit, so if there was nicotine in it or not, would it make a difference?  Yeah, it probably would. Would I be pissed off with the government? Yes. 

Every year increasing the age allowed to buy tobacco

We have a long history of banning things – doesn’t make it go away. I mean that about marijuana. I mean that about a lot of things.  The whole prohibition thing does not work. All it does is create more of an underground movement. Would it stop some people? Absolutely. Would it have the impact they’re thinking of?  I think history shows us that that’s not the case. When America banned alcohol, did it stop it? No. They got speakeasies. Did banning marijuana make a difference here? No, not a lot. I just think that’s a simplistic solution that has a history of not working.

Stopping dairies and petrol stations from selling cigarettes

So, you’d have to go to a specialised outlet? It would be safer for dairies and small outlets, given all the violence towards getting cigarettes.

I read somewhere they were looking at having specialised outlets. But, would that fundamentally change things? It would have an impact on some people because convenience is probably key. But it wouldn’t impact on what I did. I do understand the rationale for it. If you make it less convenient, people won’t do it. But, that’s not true either is it?  We have to go to liquor stores to get liquor and they’ve done really well. When we all have to go to a specialised place for tobacco, it’s bound to be next door to the liquor store.

Why punish us in the country? I live in a rural area. The community would organise it – they’d do a smoke run just like they do a liquor run or a supermarket run or whatever else. I think the Government is underestimating the strength of the communities. Would it be as easy? No. But, would it stop it?  No. It just makes it a different way of purchasing.



12 months later…

All of us involved in the Voices of the 5% study were very sad to learn that Elspeth passed away.
Elspeth was one of our earliest participants and supported the study from the beginning.
She will be missed.

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