Smoking prevalence remains high amongst people using mental health and addictions services, with a prevailing attitude that they are already under enough stress and smoking is a great way to relieve that stress. This attitude was fostered by a past culture where staff and service users smoking together was the norm and cigarettes were seen as a beneficial tool to treatment. It would take a team of brave souls indeed to implement a mass quit smoking challenge within this environment.

Enter the WERO based Challenge - a fun stop smoking competition where teams work together over a 3 month period to quit smoking. As well as competing for prizes, participants get to raise money for a good cause. With the support of a passionate workforce from the sector and Breakfree, a specialist mental health and addiction smoking cessation programme along with Pacific Quit amongst others, the WERO challenge has proven to one of the most successful programmes in regards to getting people from the mental health sector giving quitting a go.

“For an ambitious project such as this, it required many organisations, many volunteers, many participants, lots of moving parts and was a massive logistical challenge. This was the first mental health and addictions mass quitting programme in New Zealand and possibly the world” says Breviss Wolfgramm, lead coordinator of the WERO challenge. “We managed to form 3 pools, with 31 teams consisting of 168 individual. That’s a great achievement in itself”.

Berni McBride a lead navigator said “People with a mental illness and/or addiction want to quit and can quit with the right support”. A key element of success if also “Kotahi tanga” services coming together to support individuals on a journey of recovery from a tobacco addiction.

This 12 week WERO challenge will officially announce the final stop smoking results on World Smoke Free Day 31st of May, along with a prize giving ceremony. “In September last year we did a trial and even we were overwhelmed at the results. “It’s been challenging on every level, challenging to organise, challenging to quit and challenging the very paradigm that smoking and mental health is normal, but we did and it was worth it, the results speak for themselves. We look forward to sharing the results on World Smokefree Day.”.