Healthy islands are tobacco free islands

The Jet Newspaper

11 July 2014; Honiara, Solomon Islands
–Tobacco use is a major cause of preventable, premature death in many Pacific islands. To combat this scourge, WHO’s Regional Director for the Western Pacific Region Dr Shin Young-soo, SPC ‘s Direct General Dr Colin Tukuitonga and the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Tuiloma Neroni Slade, and Chairperson of the Forum Economic Ministers Meeting launched the Tobacco Free Pacific campaign today.

The campaign will drive action to meet the goal the Pacific Ministers of Health adopted of a Tobacco Free Pacific (<5% adult tobacco use) for each Pacific Island country and territory by 2025.

Tobacco use fuels the NCD crisis globally, and the Pacific is no exception. In the Pacific, the adult daily tobacco use prevalence is as high as 54.8%. Exposure to second hand smoke is also high in the Pacific. For example, data from the Global Youth Tobacco Survey indicate that rates of youth exposure in the home range from 56.8% in one country to as high as 76% in another.

The Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 campaign has a truly ambitious goal. It links up with Tobacco Free campaigns currently in progress in some Pacific islands. The regional campaign slogan “It can be done,” is a testament to the determination and confidence of Pacific islands to reduce smoking to 5% or less by the year 2025.

“Failure to control the tobacco epidemic would leave an entire generation exposed to a product known to kill its users and would continue to be a significant drain on the health systems in countries that can ill-afford it,” commented Dr Shin at the launch.

The Tobacco Free Pacific campaign launched today is comprised of six main action areas. Based on evidence and recommendations of the WHO Framework Convention for Tobacco Control (WHO FCFC), the actions are:

  1. Raise tobacco taxes. This will decrease use which saves lives, and increase revenue. This is a proven method to stop young people from smoking and reduce the amount consumed by occasional smokers. Excise tax should be at least 70% of the price.
  2. Protect from second hand smoke. Second-hand smoke kills. We need tobacco free settings (homes, schools, villages, workplaces, churches) to protect innocent people. Even if met with resistance initially, this becomes readily accepted and does not negatively impact revenues for business settings like restaurants, bars/clubs, and hotels.
  3. Prevent tobacco industry interference. The tobacco industry is working against us. The countries and territories of the Pacific are not too small for the tobacco industry. Their work needs to be exposed and tackled head on.
  4. Support cessation services. The population-level tobacco control interventions such as bans on smoking in public places, and tobacco tax increases currently taking effect in the Pacific means more tobacco users will seek cessation services.
  5. Monitor the tobacco use epidemic. Monitoring the progress in tobacco control through appropriately spaced surveillance activities is essential to tracking progress and measuring the impact of interventions.
  6. Enforce and strengthen tobacco control legislation. Comprehensive enforcement of WHO FCTC-compliant legislation is necessary to ensure a supportive environment for tobacco control.

Healthy islands are tobacco free islands

Based on the evidence from our neighbours, there is no doubt about it. The Pacific can achieve the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 goal if it continues to implement the strategies above. Each Pacific island country has a plan to respond to the NCD crisis and Tobacco Free Pacific actions figure prominently as cost effective ways to reduce tobacco use.

WHO would like to acknowledge critical support from the New Zealand Aid Programme for their tobacco control efforts in the Pacific. New Zealand AID Programme is also providing support for complementary NCD work, such as cardiovascular disease risk management and counselling.

The Pacific can be healthy islands, but only if tobacco use is eradicated, because healthy islands are tobacco free islands. 

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