The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ’s Chief Executive Letitia Harding has been named as the recipient of the 2023 President’s Award by the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand’s (TSANZ) for her advocacy and education around the dangers of vaping.
The prestigious award was presented to Ms Harding yesterday at the TSANZ’s Annual Scientific Meeting in Christchurch. The President of TSANZ, Professor Anne Holland, said the award recognised Ms Harding’s ongoing work in raising public awareness and promoting school-based education on the dangers of e-cigarettes/vaping in New Zealand.
Ms Harding says she was very humbled by the honour. “The Foundation has been committed to educating the wider public, young people, their families and educators on the dangers of vaping for many years, and to have our work recognised by TSANZ in this way is so gratifying and encouraging.”
The Foundation, an NGO led by Ms Harding, began advocating against the dangers of vaping in 2017, after seeing the impacts of vaping on young people overseas. “Since then, we have continued to push for greater regulations and controls in New Zealand, as well as leading the development of educational resources and support for young people.”
As well as establishing a youth-focused education website on vaping in 2020, the Foundation also commissioned one of the largest ever surveys of youth vaping in New Zealand in 2021. Last year, the Foundation hired Sharon Pihema as its first Māori Community Liaison role in Tairāwhiti, to respond to needs in the region. “The community identified youth vaping as its number one concern,” explains Ms Harding. “Sharon has been flat out responding to calls for more vaping education and support since coming into that role.”
“Receiving the TSANZ’s President’s Award is such a wonderful confirmation that our ongoing efforts are appreciated by the respiratory health sector. It has not been an easy journey, and we’ve faced quite strong opposition to our advocacy from various groups, so to get this recognition is very motivating. There is still so much to do to protect our young people from the harms of vaping.”