We need lawyers to help tackle the NCD crisis in Fiji

“Let us create a healthy, NCD free, Fiji – it can be done and legislation has a huge role to play in its achievement”. These were part of the opening remarks of the Fiji President, His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau at the inaugural workshop on Noncommunicable disease (NCD) and law.

Multisectoral collaboration to tackle the Pacific NCD crisis

NCDs are the number one killer of people in Fiji. Causes or risk factors for NCDs include tobacco use, harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets. These are strongly influenced by factors ranging from education to agriculture, environment to law. When government leaders declared the global NCD crisis, they recognized that effective NCD prevention and control requires multisectoral approaches, including policy and legislative development.

For example, the health sector has engaged with finance and revenue counterparts in raising taxes on unhealthy products such as tobacco to reduce affordability, and thereby consumption. Reduced consumption then saves lives. Additionally, the health sector works with education counterparts to promote healthy behaviours among school-aged students through the Health Promoting Schools programme such as establishing healthy canteen guidelines.

Engaging the legal sector to create healthy environments

For the first time in Fiji, the health and legal sectors formally met to discuss international and national strategies to utilise legislative approaches to improve health. A recent workshop convened by the Fiji Medical Association and sponsored by the Ministry of Health, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, UNDP, and WHO, included participants from civil society, the legal profession, regional organisations and the health sector, discussed the potential roles the legal sector can and should play in Fiji’s efforts to prevent NCDs in future generations.

When it comes to preventing NCD and their risk factors, policies are needed to create supportive environments. For example, during the drafting of the Fiji Tobacco Control Decree, the legal sector provided legal advice to compliance with Fiji law as well as with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control global treaty to which Fiji is a party. Lessons learnt from the drafting and implementation of the Fiji Tobacco Control Decree and its impacts on tobacco use and exposure were used during the workshop as a bridge to identifying additional ways in which the legal sector could engage in protecting people, particularly children, from unhealthy environments.

‘We already have smoke free cities and schools, but I strongly recommend we have smoke free homes legislated for as well. How can we blame a child who smokes later on in life when he or she has been brought up in a home environment that has dad or mum or uncle or aunt or other relatives smoking without any concern whatsoever for those around them.’

-His Excellency Ratu Epeli Nailatikau

In addition, the legal profession can have an impact on the urgent need to protect children from the influences of advertising of alcohol and less healthy foods and drinks, and to utilise taxation to reduce consumption of not only tobacco, but of alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages as well. While complementary approaches are useful including settings-based approaches and strong social marketing campaigns, Fiji needs lawyers and legal experts to advocate for and support the development of policies which limit marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, especially to children.