Pacific Scoop

SMC Heads-Up: Tsunami anniversary, kicking the habit

Press Release – Science Media Centre

In This Issue: Merry Christmas; Science radar; Kicking the habit; Boxing Day Tsunami; Policy news; SAVVY; New from the SMC; Sciblogs highlights; Research highlightsIssue 310 19-25 December 2014

Season’s Greetings from the SMC team!

It has been another big year for science and the media and we want to thank you all for working with the Science Media Centre during 2014.

From the Science Media SAVVY participants to the Scibloggers, the hundreds of experts we’ve quoted in our releases to the comms managers we’ve collaborated with, none of what we do would be possible without your enthusiastic support.

The SMC will be shut fromDecember 25 to January 12however SMC Manager Peter Griffin will be on call to handle urgent queries (021 859 365).

Have a great break and we look forward to working with you in 2015. And for some picks on what the media will look like next year, check out this series of predictions from Niemen Lab.

Best wishes and have a safe and relaxing holiday!

Peter, Dacia, John and Laura

On the science radar this week…

Goodbye foamy beer, how to print your Christmas tree, Martian burps reveal signs of life, Christmas lights as seen from space, and 2014’s weirdest science stories.

New approaches to stubbing out smoking

Not one, but two new studies from the University of Auckland have examined novel tools which may help Kiwis kick the smoking habit.

One study, published in the Cochrane Library this week, combined and analysed data from previous studies looking at the effects of e-cigarettes on rates of quitting or reducing the number of cigarettes smoked.

They found that about one in ten smokers who used e-cigarettes containing nicotine had gone smoke-free for a year, whereas about half as many remained smoke-free when using placebo, nicotine-free e-cigarettes. For those who didn’t quit, 36 per cent of e-cigarette users halved the number of conventional cigarettes they smoked compared with 29 per cent of those given placebos.

Although the findings are promising, the scientists were quick to point out that they needed more research to confirm them, since the results may not be realistic due to the small number of trials and limited sample of people used in the studies.

Their research was based on two randomised trials analysing data from 662 current smokers – one of which was carried out by The University of Auckland’s National Institute for Health Innovation – and also drew on evidence from 11 observational studies.

You can read more about the research and subsequent media coverage on the Science Media Centre website. The UK SMC has also produced a comprehensive media fact sheet on e-cigarettes.

A new (old) approach?

A second study from University of Auckland researchers,published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, found that a low cost, plant-based product is better than nicotine replacement therapy at helping smokers quit.

In a randomised trial, more than 1,300 participants, recruited viaQuitline, were given either the drug cytisine or standard nicotine gum or lozenges. Forty per cent of smokers who took the cytisine pills had been “continuously abstinent” in the month after their nominated quit day, significantly more than the 31 per cent using standard nicotine replacement therapy. Continuous abstinence is defined as smoking no more than five cigarettes.

The authors of the study concluded that cytisine was better than nicotine-replacement therapy for helping smokers quit, but noted participants using the drug reported more side effects including nausea, vomiting and sleep disturbances.

Cytisine is a natural, plant-based compound that has been used in smoking cessation for more than 40 years in Eastern Europe and is commercially produced in Bulgaria and Poland. According to the researchers, cytisine is similar to cessation drug varenicline (sold as Champix in New Zealand), but much cheaper.

More information and a round-up of media coverage is available on the Science Media Centre website.

Ten years on: the Boxing Day Tsunami

Ten years after the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, experts shared with the SMC their reflections on the event and how our understanding of these disasters has changed over the last decade.

At 2pm NZT on the 26th December 2004, a ~9.2 magnitude quake 160 km off the coast of northern Sumatra generated an immense tsunami, the likes of which the modern world had not seen.

The tsunami killed over 230,000 people in fourteen countries and caused billions of dollars of damage.

Ahead of the ten-year anniversary, the Science Media Centre contacted New Zealand experts for their views and thoughts on the event and the changes in knowledge over the last ten years.

Dr Ken Gledhill, Head of Department, GeoNet and Geohazards Monitoring, GNS Science, commented:

“The huge impact of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean changed our perception of tsunami forever. We all now understand the potential of these extreme natural events. Large tsunami had occurred previously in the Pacific Ocean, notably in the 1960s leading to the establishment of the Pacific Tsunami Warning System in 1965 (next year marks the 50th anniversary). None had caused the huge loss of life and been such profound media events…”

Dr Jose Borrero, Director of Raglan-based agency eCoast Ltd, comments:

“At the time of the 2004 tsunami I was 33 years old, a few years out of a Ph.D. and had nearly 10 years experience in post-tsunami data collection and damage assessment surveys, including work in Sissano and Aitape, Papua New Guinea in 1998, and Camaná, Peru in 2001, but nothing in my wildest dreams (or nightmares) prepared me for what I saw in Banda Aceh.

“I was working alone, trying to survey and document an incomprehensibly large disaster area. As I surveyed the area, I would regularly come across bodies in the piles of debris while at the same time, recovery teams were filling dump trucks with body bags. My reports from ‘ground zero’ were the first to bring the scale of the disaster out to the tsunami research and mainstream scientific community….”

You can read the full comments from researchers on the Science Media Centre. Dr Borrero has also uploaded a gallery of photographs taken immediately after the tsunami.

The Friday video…

2014’s biggest science breakthroughs

Policy news and developments

Submissions on future of science system – The Government has released the summary of submissions received in response to the first Draft National Statement of Science Investment which sets out the current settings and proposed future priorities for science investment.

New strategy to tackle kauri dieback – A new joint strategy to tackle kauri dieback has been welcomed by the Government.

The new approach builds on the last five years and aims to significantly ramp up protection for kauri with a more than three-fold increase in funding over the next five years.

Submissions called for fungicide application – The Environmental Protection Authority is calling for submissions on an application for release of the fungicide Prolectus, which contains Fenpyrazamine and is used as a fungicide in commercial grape crops.

New predator control venture welcomed – The NEXT Foundation has partnered with philanthropists Gareth Morgan and Sam Morgan, and the Department of Conservation, to set up the Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) project, which will focus on developing the tools and systems needed to permanently remove introduced predators from large areas of mainland New Zealand.

EPA 1080 annual report released – The Environmental Protection Authority has released its seventh annual report on aerial 1080 drops, which concludes that the tighter management regime is working and there is no indication that a further reassessment of 1080 is required.


Quoted: The New Yorker

“Some people think scientists should just be objective.

“They sit in the lab, they report their results, and that’s it. But you can’t separate your private life from your work life. So I do this science and then I go home and think, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if New Zealand had birds everywhere and we didn’t have to worry about rats?’ And so that’s the world I imagine.”

Dr James Russell, an ecologist at the University of Auckland, commenting on New Zealand’s predator control.

New From the SMC

Experts respond:

Ten years on: Experts reflect on the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami

In the News:

Promising pill for kicking the smoking habit

NZ research lights up e-cigarettes as quitting aid

Lima climate talks pave path to Paris 2015

Dr Mary Quin – New Zealander of the Year

From the SMC Network

From the UK SMC:

Expert reaction to ibuprofen and longevity

Expert reaction to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and reduced skin cancer risk

Expert reaction to new milestone in mitochondrial donation

Expert reaction to 2013 fertility trends report

Expert reaction to identification of potential drugs to fight Ebola virus

From the Australian SMC:

BRIEFING: The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, ten years on

The AusSMC’s top ten weirdest science stories of 2014

EXPERT REACTION: Scientists call for use of nuclear to stop biodiversity loss

NEWS BRIEFING: Going nuclear to save the environment

EXPERT REACTION: Findings of the 2014 UNFCC COP20 meeting in Peru

Sciblogs highlights

Some of the highlights from this week’s Sciblogs posts:

What do chickens, astronauts and St Anthony’s Fire have in common? Helen Petousis Harris discusses the chicken pox virus, shingles and vaccinations.

Diplomatic immunity

Christmas 2024 – Robert Hickson writes up what New Zealand might be like 10 years from now.


Peacekeeping in the Pacific begins at home – Lynley Hargreaves asks the University of Auckland’s Dr Steven Ratuva about the traditional, community-based ways of solving problems that are still strongly adhered to by Pacific Island nations.

Infrequently Asked Questions

It’s the season for ‘best-of’ science compilations – Alison Campbell rounds up the best animals for 2014.


The Science of Systematics – key to Fonterra’s and New Zealand’s future – Peter Buchanan discusses how just a name – and its misidentification – can cost a nation millions of dollars.

Guest Work

Research highlights

Some of the research papers making headlines this week.

Evidence of e-cig effectiveness: A new Cochrane review finds emerging evidence that smokers who use electronic cigarettes can stop or reduce their smoking, drawing on data from two randomised trials, one of which was undertaken in New Zealand. The authors, including a New Zealander, say that while nicotine-containing e-cigarettes look to be more more effective than placebo e-cigarettes in helping smokers kick the habit, the results need to be confirmed by more studies.

Cochrane Library

Cytisine, a new (old) tool for quitting smoking? University of Auckland researchers have found that a low cost, plant-based product is better than nicotine replacement therapy at helping smokers quit. In a randomised trial, more than 1,300 quitters were given either the drug cytisine or standard nicotine gum or lozenges. Participants who were given cytisine were more likely to be smoke-free after 6 months. The authors note that cytisine, which has been used in Europe for decades, is similar to cessation drug Champix, but much cheaper.

New England Journal of Medicine

NZ doctor on a mission for missing magazines: An Auckland-based GP who was fed up with complaints about the lack of up-to-date magazines in his waiting room decided to investigate, and tracked the weekly whereabouts of 82 magazines, 47 of which were less than two months old. After 31 days, the study stopped and he found that 41 of the 87 (47 per cent) magazines had disappeared! Current magazines were more than twice as likely to go missing as older ones, and gossipy magazines were over 14 times more likely to disappear than non-gossipy magazines.


Christmas cracker conundrum: If you’re expecting 10 guests for dinner on Christmas day, 15 crackers – those festive cardboard tubes filled with a one-size-fits-no-one paper hat, a small toy, and a groan-inducing joke, should be enough to send everyone home with a prize. That’s according to some festive statisticians who came to their estimation by simulating 10,000 parties, with guest numbers ranging from 2 to 50.


Merry medical Christmas from the BMJ: The BMJ is publishing a number of scientifically rigorous, yet slightly tongue-in-cheek articles in their special Christmas issue. Topics include: Vitamin D and the effects of New Zealand earthquakes, post-Christmas dinner weight loss, the safety of Nintendo games as gifts, and the depiction of murder in children’s films.


Upcoming sci-tech events

For these and other upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC’s Events Calendar.

Arduino robotics workshops – come and build your own Arduino robot with Elf Eldridge – School of Engineering and Computer Science at VUW. Ages 11-18. 29-30 December, Wellington.

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