Tobacco kills around seven million people each year and remains the world’s leading preventable cause of death.
World No Tobacco Day is observed on this day each year as a reminder of the harmful risks associated with tobacco use, an opportunity to reflect on the challenges and progress made to reduce its consumption as well as a call for countries to prioritize and accelerate tobacco control efforts as part of their responses to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Currently, the Pacific claims some of the highest smoking rates in the world with studies revealing that approximately half of the adult population in Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Tokelau and Wallis and Futuna smokes daily.
While tobacco use poses an obvious health risk, it also comes at a substantial loss to national economies through increased health service costs and reduced productivity as a result of premature deaths.
To address this Pacific Island countries and territories are working with the Pacific Community (SPC) and other partners to implement their respective Tobacco Control programmes.
The Pacific Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) Roadmap which was approved by Pacific Ministers at the Joint Economic Forum and Pacific Health Ministers’ meeting in 2014 focuses on tobacco control and sets targets of a gradual increase in taxation on the retail price of cigarettes over the medium term to 70 per cent.
“Tobacco is a threat to our region’s development. The good news is that Pacific Island countries and territories recognise this crisis and are proactively implementing measures to address it. Since 2014, nine Pacific members have increased taxes on tobacco products and several have already strengthened their tobacco control legislation which includes packaging and labelling, put restrictions on advertising and sponsorship and declaration of smoke-free public spaces,” Pacific Community Director-General, Dr Colin Tukuitonga said.
“At the inaugural Pacific NCD Summit last year, Pacific leaders committed to strengthening legislation to ensure that they comply with the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and meet or exceed the Pacific NCD Roadmap taxation target in order to achieve a ‘Tobacco Free Pacific’ by 2025. The Pacific Community, along with other development partners will continue to support this important work,” Dr Tukuitonga added.
While acknowledging that a lot more work needs to be done, progress is being made towards achieving a Tobacco Free Pacific.
In Samoa for example, a comparison of two STEPwise to surveillance (STEPS) surveys noted that daily smokers in Samoa (ages 25 – 64 years old) dropped from approximately 35 per cent in 2002 to under 25 per cent in 2013.
In a recent demonstration of Pacific Island countries and territories working together to address tobacco control in the Pacific; in October 2016, French Polynesia and SPC also supported the establishment of a smoking cessation clinic in Wallis and Futuna.
The initiative has provided training to health and community workers and a clinic equipped with facilities for counselling, preventing and treating tobacco addiction, as well as public education and awareness campaigns currently underway, in an effort to increase smokers’ access to tobacco cessation services.
Solene Bertrand-Protat SPC Non-Communicable Diseases Officer, [email protected] or +679 337 0733