This story is a great example of local leadership and collective impact amongst partners.

Wainuiomata Rugby League Club, with the backing of Regional Public Health, championed a smokefree cars campaign in their community to which the results have led to the passing of a bill banning smoking in cars with children under 18.

On December 7 2011, the Dominion Post printed a front-page article on research by the University of Otago which reported ‘smoking in cars carrying children’ was 11 times higher in Wainuiomata than in Karori.

This caused an immediate reaction from the Wainuiomata community who requested support and leadership from Regional Public Health to help reduce the occurrence of smoking in cars carrying children.

In response, Regional Public Health formed a working group which included students from Wainuiomata High School and Wainuiomata Intermediate and selected the Wainuiomata Rugby League Club to help champion the campaign who played a pivotal role in influencing some outstanding results.

Wainuiomata Rugby League Club captain at the time, Simon Itula, had all club members promise to not smoke in their cars when carrying children, the club then made their junior grounds completely smoke-free.

The junior grounds is a council-owned reserve in which the council stated that the league club was prohibited from placing any smoke-free signage around the grounds. Therefore the promotion was mainly by word of mouth. Club mums, dads, cousins and uncles managed the grounds and enforced the smoke-free initiative during games.

All visiting junior teams and whanau were informed that the Wainuiomata League Club was supporting a smoke-free cars campaign and encouraged visitors to smoke before and after they got in their vehicles to protect their children from tobacco harm.

The campaign was supported by the Associate Minister of Health at the time, Tariana Turia and the late Honorary Parekura Horomia.

Approximately six months later, a repeat of the study by the University of Otago reported that within a timeframe of 3-6 months, people smoking in cars carrying children reduced by half.  Wainuiomata Rugby League Club played a pivotal role in achieving these remarkable results for their community. 

This then ignited a national campaign for prohibiting smoking in motor vehicles carrying children under 18 to pass as law.

Students from the Intermediate and High School appeared before a Parliamentary Select Committee last year making final oral submissions in what would be a landmark decision to extend smoke-free environments to include cars by 2021.

On May 27 2020, the bill passed its final hearing with support from all parties. 2021 will see it illegal to smoke in cars with children under 18.

Current Associate Health Minister, Jenny Salesa, said the new law would mean thousands of children across New Zealand will have healthier lungs.

“We know that second-hand smoke can accumulate in vehicles, even with the windows down. That presents an unacceptable risk to kids who never asked to be exposed to second-smoke, and deserve a fighting chance at a life of healthy, clean lungs.”

NZRL CEO Greg Peters says “Thank you to the Wainuiomata Rugby League Club for epitomising our Kiwi Way values and driving such an important kaupapa. Their efforts and contribution to the campaign for a safer community have led to nationwide policy change that will benefit tamaraki for generations to come. We are very proud of their efforts. This is a true example of how rugby league is More Than A Game.”