31 Jul 2013

Niue leads charge towards smoke-free goal

5:23 pm on 31 July 2013

Niue is leading the charge among Pacific islands nations committed to achieving the goal of becoming smoke free by 2025 after a survey found a major drop in smoking rates.

Niue and several other Pacific countries are moving towards tighter tobacco control legislation and public awareness campaigns outlining the dangers of smoking.

A change in old attitudes towards tobacco is also seen as a key to reducing rates of smoking.

Bridget Tunnicliffe reports:

At the recently concluded Tenth Pacific Health Ministers meeting in Samoa, the ministers agreed to adopt a 'Tobacco-free Pacific' goal by 2025 as a way to mitigate the non-communicable disease crisis. The director of the Niue Health Department, Manila Nosa, says tobacco use is the only risk factor common to each of the four main NCDs.

"MANILA NOSA: We feel that we have achieved something along the way about reducing the rates of smoking and also hope to have reduced the burden of NCDs on the islands or even the complications of having NCDs, as well."

A recent World Health Organisation survey confirmed Niue has one of the lowest smoking rates in the Pacific. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community's non-communicable disease advisor, Jeanie McKenzie, says the entire population aged 15 years and over participated in the 2011 study. Ms McKenzie says results just published show 11.6% of the population smokes tobacco, compared to a survey 30 years ago which found 58% of males and 17% of females smoked. She says there are a number of reasons for the drop.

JEANIE MCKENZIE: The fact that their cigarettes cost about 14 dollars or so a pack - I think that would make them reasonably expensive by Niuean standards. They offer a quit-smoking programme, which is free, and probably the third area of importance is that they keep up the high level of public awareness about the dangers of tobacco smoking.

Manila Nosa says they hope to bring smoking rates down even further with comprehensive tobacco control legislation on the horizon.

MANILA NOSA: In that we're trying to emphasize things like smoke-free restaurants and smoke-free government places. There was another issue there like issuing spot fines and things like that if we see people who are smoking at places they are not supposed to smoke at.

The Minister for Health in Kiribati, Dr Kautu Tenaua, says they too are trying to introduce a Tobacco Bill which would impose certain restrictions. He says Kiribati, which has recorded smoking rates as high as 50%, has a long tradition of accepting tobacco as part of its culture. He says overcoming that attitude has been a challenge.

KAUTU TENAUA: So many ministers before me tried to initiate the development of the Tobacco Bill in vain because of the negative reaction of the public and the failure of the MPs on outer islands in being prepared to support the Bill.

But Dr Tenaua says the tide changed when all MPs endorsed anti-smoking legislation in parliament in April. He says one of the main aims of the Bill is stop the easy access to tobacco by children, and increase the smoking age to 18. Dr Tenaua says it's still a sensitive subject and they have to be cautious in designing the Bill and being realistic about imposing certain restrictions.