Fono mental health patient kicks smoking in the butt

Despite hating the taste of cigarettes, 32-year-old Nicholas Ah-Kee couldn’t stop the smoking habit he’d had since the age of 16. It was the one constant in a life that took a turn when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2010. But with the help Auckland-based PAcific Health Orginisation The Fono’s Mental Health and Ready, Steady, Quit Stop Smoking Services joining forces, Nicholas has taken charge by ending his addictive habit. Leading his team ‘The Crocodiles’, the group took out the overall prize in the recent Waitemata District Health Board (WDHB) ‘Let’s Kick Butt challenge’. 



Previously, two months was the longest period Nicholas could give up smoking, before being lured back into the habit by his surroundings.


“I would give up for a month or so, but when I was around other people smoking, I’d start smoking again myself,” he says.


It was a terrible cycle for the mental health consumer who suffered from psychosis, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2010.


His illness meant Nicholas was unable to work for the past several years, as he battled not only to stay on top of his mental, but physical, health.


“The medication that I take also makes me gain weight,” he says, advising that the weight gain contributed to significant back pain leading to a lack of physical activity.


Smoking became a pastime for Nicholas.


“I was smoking because I was bored,” he recalls.


“All I did was lie in bed all day, so when I got bored, I had a smoke. I hated the taste and wanted to give up for a long time, but I couldn’t … It was hard,” he says, “until the group.”


The ‘Fono for Change’ group comprised of eight mental health consumers trying to stop smoking, participating in The Fono’s Ready, Steady, Quit Stop Smoking Service.


Groups took on the Waitemata District Health Board ‘Let’s Kick Butt challenge’ in April.


Nicholas emerged week after week as the CO (carbon monoxide) monitor champ, staying smokefree the whole way through.


“The good thing about Nicholas,” says Siosifa Tupou, Nicholas’ mental health community service worker (CSW), “is that he’s realistic with his goal. He really wanted to quit, and worked towards it.”


Research consistently shows around 80% of all people with schizophrenia smoke cigarettes - more than three times the national average.


So Nicholas’ achievement is some feat.


With the support of Sifa, The Crocodiles group, as well as The Fono stop smoking practitioner Winnie Maeataanoa, Nicholas and his team persevered.


“It’s not something he might have been able to do on his own,” says Sifa.


“The group environment really motivates each consumer to push through for the good of the team.”


A combination of free support is provided by The Fono, from their social workers and groups, to nicotine replacement therapy (nicotine patches, gum and lozenges).


“The groups sit together and have open discussion, motivating each other and learning with each other instead of being by yourself,” adds Sifa, who says the added incentive of weekly CO monitoring also keeps participants honest.


Nicholas’ team, The Crocodiles, which took out the top prize for most in a team to stop smoking, won a prize of $1000 from the WDHB for the most in a team to be successful.


Winnie attributes the success to the close working relationship between her stop smoking practitioners and Sifa’s mental health team who are very supportive of their clients.


”We looked at a more holistic approach, which is the Pacific way of doing things, having a wraparound type of service around that whole community that can be seen as the Vaka or the Va’a,” she explains.


“The Vaka takes consumers on their journey, not only towards better mental health, but towards being able to stop smoking.”


“We had the mental health workers, the stop smoking practitioners and people from our other social services as well, who were part and parcel of the support in that whole programme.”


Sifa and Winnie can’t thank Bernie McBride enough, the Northern Regional Alliance’s smokefree mental health and addictions coordinator, for her knowledge and support.


They also credit the WDHB for kick-starting the Let’s Kick Butt programme.


It’s enabled them to showcase how The Fono’s development of a Pacific model when working with clients has strengthened their delivery of group-based therapy.


With the success, they want to put the programme out to other Pacific and Maori services. The aim is to link up with The Fono in order to help more mental health consumers to follow in Nicholas’ footsteps in becoming entirely smoke free.

More information about the Fono:


About The Fono

The Fono provides affordable services including medical, dental, pharmacy, health promotion, social services, education and Whanau Ora. They deliver a combination of these services across five locations. With combined experience of five separate clinics stretching over 80 years, The Fono aims to be a leader in health for the people who need it the most, fostering well, safe, vibrant and informed communities.

Click here to view The Fono’s website