Kiribati’s tobacco free maneaba

Feature story
October 2014

Leading the way to a tobacco free Pacific

As the centre of village life in Kiribati, maneaba, or meeting houses are leading by example. Village elders have become champions for tobacco control by declaring their maneaba tobacco free areas to protect community health from the dangers of tobacco smoke. Gifting tobacco when visiting the maneaba is no longer the norm. Instead visitors give the gift of health with tokens such as sports equipment.

Kiribati has one of the highest male tobacco use prevalence rates in the Pacific. In thinking creatively about how to increase community buy-in for efforts to reduce tobacco use, traditional leaders were identified as influential and inspirational members of i-Kiribati villages who could be champions of tobacco control.

“Only with the support and leadership of traditional and other community leaders can the changes needed to protect children and others from the dangers of second-hand smoke be implemented effectively,” noted Dr André Reiffer, Country Liaison Officer for the WHO Office in Kiribati.

Building community ownership for controlling tobacco

The effort began in 2012 when WHO provided support to the Ministry of Health and Medical Services in their effort to reach outside the health sector to promote and expand tobacco free settings in Kiribati. Since then, 217 out of 610 maneaba have been declared tobacco free.

Communities are noticing the change. Mr Teata Turabu of Buota observed that, “since our maneaba became tobacco free, people have noticed that the air and area in and around our maneaba is much cleaner now.”

Mr Taeua Tooma a Catechist at Bonriki, maneaba shared, “I supported the idea of making our maneaba tobacco free because I wanted to protect people who do not smoke; especially our children. Next, we will need to make tobacco less affordable and help young people learn how to deal with the peer pressure they face to use tobacco.”