Students of Waitakere Alternative Education are soon to have their say in changing the future for young Maori people who smoke.

Healthy Families Waitakere is extending its engagement with youth in West Auckland schools to include alternative education, marking a first for alternative education students nationwide.  

The innovation will see students co-design smokefree messaging and learning in alternative education environments, co-ordinated by Healthy Families Waitakere in partnership with Waitakere Alternative Education, youth hub Zeal West, Waitemata District Health Board, Sport Waitakere and Ready Steady Quit.

Scott Samson, Manager of Waitakere Alternative Education which provides short term intervention to support students away from mainstream education, says there is untapped potential and creativity within these young people.

“This is a real point of difference because the students developing the messages will be the ones the messages are intended to reach,” he says.

While the average smoking rate in Auckland is 12.9%, 777 of those people are Māori aged between 15 and 19 years located in the Waitemata District Health Board zone. West Auckland local board areas of Henderson Massey, Waitakere Ranges and Whau report higher smoking rates (2013 Census), and with 4000 NZ children starting to smoke every year at the average age of 14, prevention is critical.

Waitakere Alternative Education is made up of 90% Maori students, with 95% identifying as smoking cigarettes daily and latest research tells us that Maori adult smoking rates are very high at over 30%.

 The programme will see students aged between 13 and 18 years old lend their voice and ideas around smokefree messaging, with the backing of the school and wider community.

The student led initiative will allow youth to co-design the learning framework and is likely to incorporate mediums such as art and kapa haka. Youth input will extend to details like specifying start and finish dates to align with curriculum, as well as shaping any awards or recognition alongside the learning.

Healthy Families Waitakere manager Kerry Allan says it’s important to ensure young people are leading the way by facilitating a process where youth can gain first-hand knowledge on the development of health promoting messages for smokefree.  

“This is about using the youth voice – ultimately to bring about systems change in the learning setting.

“Maori participation at all levels of the development and implementation of health promoting messages is critical to the impact it has on the community, and ultimately enhances their capabilities and opportunities as young people in Waitakere,” says Kerry.

“Engaging alternative education students is a critical step to extending the work we’ve already done in schools in the region.  We need to include these students in conversations to understand what young people think about smoking and what messages would encourage them and their peers to stop smoking.”

The project continues last year’s initiatives in West Auckland schools to encourage student leadership and action around smokefree messages, with the ultimate aim of reducing smoking rates in the community’s youth population.