Small in size, but big of heart, the village of Kala'au on the western side of Tongatapu in Tonga has taken a stand against tobacco smoking-related deaths, declaring itself a 'smoke-free' area, Matangi Online reports. Home for just 126 people, Kala'au hosted Tonga's No Tobacco Day on May 31. They were rewarded by the Ministry of Health (MOH) with free electricity, a cash payment and a lawnmower.
MOH revealed that 74 people died from cancer in Tonga in 2009 and about half these cases were tobacco-related. In the same year 182 people died from heart disease and strokes and 57 from lung disease. Many of these deaths have been linked to the effects of smoking. And people suffering from smoking-related diseases impact negatively on families and Tonga's health services budget.
Marking the World No Tobacco Day 2011 under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Tonga's Minister of Health Hon 'Uliti Uata said it was important to live a healthy no-tobacco lifestyle and commended the people of Kala'au on their initiative towards becoming the first village in Tonga, to be smoke-free and alcohol-free.
He said the Ministry of Health, through the Tonga Health Promotion Foundation, awarded the village with a new lawn mower and would pay six months of the village's electricity bills, as well as making a cash donation in recognition of their efforts.
Iemaima Havea, CEO of Tonga Health, said the initiative taken up by Kala'au village to become smoke-free was a voluntary declaration made through its town officer Viliami Manu'atu.
She said it was a commitment made during a national meeting in Nuku'alofa hosted by SPC on Non-communicable Diseases and Lifestyle Diseases Risk Factors attended by various district and town officers from throughout Tongatapu, a few weeks ago.
"We explained the problems and diseases from smoking and how it is a risk factor to contracting non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart problems.
"Viliami stood up and told the meeting that Kala'au would make its village smoke free in order for its people to live a healthy life," she said.
She said the town officer also requested help to keep their village clean and a lawn mower was donated/
"We decided to help them with their electricity in recognition of their effort," she said.
Viliami Manu'atu said this was a historical day for his village in its strive to live a healthy lifestyle and become the first village in Tonga to say no to tobacco as well as alcohol.
He noted this is a challenge, but already the village's only retail shop does not sell tobacco.
"We have also banned smoking in our village public gatherings and public venues such as town halls and churches," he said.
A recent survey of the village showed only a handful of youths smoked but it was occasionally when they had money to buy it.
"We have only about three people who are chain smokers," he said.
Additional activities that marked the day included FiliTonu Outreach Awareness to primary schools in Nuku'alofa, a SmokeFree Walk on May 30 at Teufaiva Stadium, and an advocacy meeting for Tonga's Parliamentarians hosted by the Minister of Health at the Fa'onelua Convention Centre on May 31.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control theme is focussed to highlight the importance and stress the parties and countries obligations under the treaty.
The treaty is the world's foremost tobacco control instrument that Tonga ratified in 2005. It has legal obligations on the countries that have acceded to it including adopting price and tax measures to reduce the demand for tobacco, to ban tobacco advertising, and promotion and sponsorship and to ban sales to and by minors.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide, the WHO stated. In 2011 more than 5 million will die from tobacco related heart attack, stroke, cancer and lung ailment or other diseases, that does not include more than 600,000 people more than a quarter of them children, who will die from exposure to second hand smoking.
The annual death toll could rise up to 8 million by 2030, having killed 100 million people during the 20th century and tobacco use could kill one billion people during the 21st century.