Where are they now?: Professor Janet Hoek

Oct 3, 2022 | Fellows, Transformations (Issue 7), Where are they now?

Towards a smoke-free Aotearoa New Zealand

Joining the IAS as a Fellow in the latter part of 2019 gave me a new and profoundly different understanding of interdisciplinary research. As someone who aspired to be a medievalist, found herself undertaking marketing research, and then became a public health researcher, I thought I knew something about cross-disciplinary work. However, my time at the IAS taught me much more. I also gained a new understanding of time and serendipity, given I was a member of the last pre-Covid cohort to visit the IAS!

Although not one of the core theme researchers, I learned a lot about clay and mediation, and greatly looked forward to Fellows’ lectures and the midday Monday debates. I still ponder on Sean McMahon’s lecture, which opened new possibilities of finding fossils on Mars, and on Lia Bryant’s poignant analysis of farmer suicide, drought and community connections. In an ironic quirk, Professor Jing Bao Nie and I travelled half way around the world to discover we had much in common and I am grateful for the opportunities to engage more with the Centre for Bioethics at the University of Otago that he has helped create.

Despite our highly varied backgrounds, Fellows found many connecting points and discovered we had much more in common than we might have anticipated. We were enormously lucky to work with Professors Veronica Strang, Rob Barton and Nick Saul, whose unique abilities to link diverse perspectives ensured we had rich and challenging experiences. I was also lucky to work with Professors Andrew Russell and Jane Macnaughton, who warmly welcomed me to their group and whose generous hospitality we hope to repay soon. Linda Crowe – the heart of the IAS – ensured we had many opportunities to explore Durham’s extraordinary history, and gave us numerous reasons to want to return.

My husband, Professor Phil Gendall, and I received a wonderful welcome from Professor Rob Lynes and his wife Marta, and the wider “Stevo” team. We enjoyed locomotion dinners and book club meetings, and learned a lot from the lovely post-graduate group who made us “real” coffee at Sunday brunches! We have very fond memories of Harriet Axbey who led the MCR, and were thrilled to receive a copy of her book My Brother Tom Has Superpowers, which shared how people with autism see and experience the world.

Despite the unusual pathway my academic career has followed, I have a long-standing interest in smokefree policy and critically assessing the gap between tobacco companies’ public front and private practice. Aotearoa New Zealand was one of the first countries to set an “endgame” goal, where we hope to have reduced smoking prevalence to five percent or below among all population groups by 2025. My time at the IAS provided an opportunity to reflect on the progress we had made and develop new ideas; after a busy semester, my tranquil office in the castle was the perfect setting to think and write. I completed and wrote several papers, including work examining e-cigarette marketing and retailing, and perceptions of e-cigarette aerosol, and completed fieldwork for a project on e-cigarette labelling that I also wrote up (see publication details below) while at Durham.

This work has become part of a much wider research programme exploring transitions from smoking to vaping, where we have drawn on social practice theories to consider how and why these transitions often fail. E-cigarettes and vaping remain highly contested, perhaps more so in NZ than in the UK, and it was very interesting to learn more about key policy differences (particularly around advertising and nicotine limits).

The IAS also enabled me to meet with local smokefree groups. Andrew introduced me to FRESH, the first regional tobacco control programme established in the UK, whose members were also working towards tobacco endgame goals. Ably led by Ailsa Rutter OBE, FRESH members had many new ideas and I learned a great deal from comparing and contrasting our different policies and priorities. It was wonderful, just a couple of months ago, to read the Khan Report (Khan J. Making smoking obsolete. UK Government, 2022. URL: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-khan-review-making-smoking-obsolete)), which has proposed many of the same initiatives we are introducing in NZ.

Since returning to NZ, Covid has disrupted many of my research plans and complicated the launch of a major new programme my Centre was awarded shortly before I left for the IAS. NZ’s elimination strategy (led by my colleagues!) kept us safe from a disease that ravaged so many countries; even so, we did not escape the anxiety and disruption that Covid brought.  I am sure many people can recount similar experiences and empathise with how inward-looking we became as pastoral care for students and teaching priorities dislodged research ambitions. Luckily, collaborations with Professor Nie have flourished and one of his colleagues  – Dr Elizabeth Fenton – has provided a rich new perspective on e-cigarettes and marketing directed at young people. We have collaborated on a commentary published in Tobacco Control, undertaken work probing positive and negative freedoms to explore how young people interpret the smoke-free generation proposal, and explored tobacco industry rhetoric in social media.

Mulling over e-cigarette regulation, and the rapid rise of youth vaping among newer smokers we have seen in NZ, made me increasingly concerned that our existing approach has not served young people well. I was lucky earlier this year to receive the Universities of New Zealand Critic and Conscience of Society Award, which recognised my work raising concerns about youth vaping and policy inadequacies. My time at Durham showed me the strength of community connections; the ASPIRE research centre I co-direct has spent the last few years fostering these relationships, which inspire and ground us, and have given rise to many new questions.

Earlier this week, NZ largely dismantled the Covid regulatory framework that had served us so well. International travel is now much easier, the teaching disruptions have reduced, and we are negotiating new equilibria. I am hopeful that the coming year will foster connections made during my time at Durham, allow us to rekindle the discussions started, and enable us to reciprocate the generous hospitality and many kindnesses shown to us while we were at the IAS.

Publications include

Hoek J, Gendall P, Eckert C, et al. (2022) ‘Analysis of on-pack messages for e-liquids: a discrete choice study’, Tobacco Control, 31, pp. 534-542. https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/31/4/534.abstract

Gendall P, Hoek J. (2021) ‘ Role of flavours in vaping uptake and cessation among New Zealand smokers and non-smokers: a cross-sectional study. Tobacco Control, 30, pp. 108-110. URL: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/30/1/108

I also worked on another MS while at Durham where I acknowledged the IAS’s support; details are:

Blank M, Hoek J, Gendall P. (2021) ‘Roll-your-own smokers’ reactions to cessation-efficacy messaging integrated into tobacco packaging design: a sequential mixed-methods study’, Tobacco Control, 30, pp. 405-412. URL: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/30/4/405.abstract

All papers are published in Tobacco Control, which is the leading journal for smokefree policy researchers. It is ranked 22/585 journals in Scimago Public Heatlh, Environmental Health and Occupational Health, and 7/320 in Health (Social Science).

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