Tobacco control protecting health in the Pacific

29 May 2014- Islands throughout the Pacific have made significant strides in tobacco control over the past year as a component of addressing the noncommunicable disease crisis. Several Pacific island countries are on their way to becoming healthy islands through key measures such as raised taxes on tobacco products. Pacific Islands will celebrate achievements in tobacco control and advocate for scaling up action on World No Tobacco Day on May 31.

Healthy islands must be tobacco free islands
Recognizing that specific action is needed to address the noncommunicable disease crisis in the Pacific, and that tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of NCDs, Pacific Island Health Ministers took a decisive step to scale up action on tobacco control. In 2013, they adopted the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 goal, which aims to reduce adult tobacco use to less than 5%.

On our way to a Tobacco Free Pacific
In supporting Pacific islands toward the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 goal, WHO has provided extensive technical support to Pacific Island countries with implementation of very cost-effective tobacco control actions based on the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Very cost effective actions include increasing taxes on tobacco products.

The theme of 2014 World No Tobacco Day is raise tobacco taxes. Raising taxes on tobacco is a proven method to reduce tobacco use –particularly amongst the young. Higher tobacco prices discourage the young from initiating tobacco use. Evidence from low- to high-income countries has demonstrated that increasing tobacco taxes, which decreases affordability, results in a decrease in use. Decreasing use results in decreased disease and death. Likewise, raising taxes on tobacco increases revenue.

Since the WHO began to focus on raising tobacco taxes as a cost effective approach to reducing tobacco consumption in the Pacific, 7 Pacific islands have raised taxes on tobacco products (Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga). Others, such as Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu, are being supported to pursue increases in tobacco taxes through workshops with multisectoral stakeholders to develop taxation models for advocating tax increase to Government.

Taxes need to be increased regularly to keep up with inflation because as incomes increase, tobacco products become more affordable. WHO FCTC recommends that tax rates be monitored, increased or adjusted on a regular basis, potentially annually, taking into account inflation in order to reduce consumption of tobacco products. Thus far, Cook Islands, Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga established a multi-year progressive tobacco tax strategy.

Tobacco use has devastating impacts on health and society in the Pacific. With political commitment and community leadership, progress is being made with tobacco control, and momentum is increasing. Tobacco control in the Pacific is protecting health and saving lives.