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Safeguard Magazine

Health matters—Smokefree prompts culture shift

LEE-ANNE DUNCAN reports on a company’s year-long journey towards going smokefree, and the culture change that resulted.

Tania Stewart has three words to describe why going smokefree at Jefkar’s retail sites has succeeded: “Support, support, support!”

As team manager, people for the company that runs a cluster of six Z Energy service stations in Christchurch and North Canterbury, Tania understood how much working in a smokefree environment would help her employees.

“At a Z Energy leadership course we were challenged to work on something we could incorporate into our cluster to benefit our teams and the business,” she says. “This was mid-2015 and there was a lot of talk about smokefree workplaces. Smoking among our workforce is about 25%, which is a lot lower than it would have been 10 years ago but higher than the national rate of 16%, so we decided to focus on making our retail sites smokefree.”

Jefkar’s employees weren’t supposed to smoke at work but many did – obviously well away from the forecourt. “There’s a difference between saying, ‘We don’t want smoking on site’, and, ‘There is to be no smoking on site’,” Tania says.

“So people would smoke in hiding – maybe in the middle of the night, maybe in places they couldn’t be seen. If we can’t see our staff we can’t keep them safe, and some sites might only have one or two people on, so if one goes away to smoke it leaves the site and remaining staff member vulnerable.

“There was also an air of secrecy, of not wanting management to know. It created stigma because staff who smoked took more breaks, which annoyed non-smoking staff. We wanted to eliminate all this and protect our people – their health, as well as their safety.”


Over the next year Tania kept developing and discussing the smokefree plan with the team. “If we’d said, ‘Right, tomorrow you have to stop smoking at work’, we would have all failed. First we had to recreate our current culture into a culture where not smoking was normal. And recreating culture is hard.”

To take her first steps towards changing the culture, Tania developed a training module unveiling the smokefree plan to employees. It covered what the policy means, why it’s important, how it will be implemented, and asked for feedback.

“Opinions then ranged from ‘that would be great – it’s not fair they pop out for a smoke’, to our long-term smokers saying, ‘you can’t tell me not to smoke’. We spent a lot of time and energy telling people we aren’t telling them they can’t smoke – just that they can’t smoke anywhere on our sites or during work hours,” she says.

Tania then brought a cross-section of staff together to talk through the issues. “People are passionate and opinionated, and everybody’s view is right for them. We had to create a space where we could start understanding each other’s point of view. It was quite a long process.”

Tania knew her trickiest groups would be the long-term and the new smokers. “I couldn’t just tell them to stop – especially as a non-smoker. I had to show them I understand it’s really, really hard to quit and I realise challenges can cause their good smokefree work to go out the window. So keeping up communication was key – and still is. You have to know what’s going on with people and they have to feel they can talk to you.”


And when they talk, and ask for help to quit, Tania says providing support is vital. “In terms of stop smoking support, we said we could create individualised graduated plans to help them. We can provide them with access to stop smoking coaches at our local stop smoking service, and they can also call Z Energy’s employee assistance programme.

“But, surprisingly, most quit or cut down on their own, or went to their doctor for nicotine replacement therapy with us reimbursing the cost. They also had heaps of encouragement from non-smoking team members.”

In mid-2016 Jekfar’s six workplaces became officially smokefree, and 18 months later Tania Stewart says it’s absolutely been worth the effort.

“We have had four staff stop smoking completely, while others have cut down their daily smoking and/or are working towards being smokefree. My longest-term smoker was really anti this process, however recently she said she used to smoke 10 cigarettes at work each day but now has one before she comes to work. That’s it for her day.

“We are in a really good space with our crew. They now hold each other to a higher standard – about smoking but also other behaviours they might have let slide before. We have created an open, honest smokefree culture where people feel valued and listened to, and the benefits are huge.”

Free stop smoking support is available via 16 local stop smoking services (, offering free face-to-face multi-sessional support, plus free nicotine replacement therapy – even in your workplace. Also see for facts, ideas and resources to create a smokefree workplace.

Lee-Anne Duncan is a consultant writer with the Health Promotion Agency.

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