Tobacco free for a healthy Pacific

Noncommunicable disease (NCD) representatives from around the Pacific region took action toward a Tobacco-free Pacific by 2025. Participants of the Fifth Pacific NCD Forum: Political Commitment to Resilient Action agreed on actions needed to reach this goal, ranging from increasing tobacco taxes and enforcing tobacco-free workplaces to a Pacific network to support and overcome implementation challenges.

Why a tobacco-free Pacific

“The Pacific islands have made commendable progress translating political commitments made by Pacific leaders into multisectoral action and health systems strengthening for NCD prevention and control at the country level.”

–Dr Oleg Chestnov, Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health at the opening the Fifth Pacific NCD Forum

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of the leading causes of adult death and disease in the Pacific. The average retail price of manufactured tobacco sold in the Pacific islands is much lower than that of manufactured tobacco sold in Australia and New Zealand. In the Pacific, the adult daily tobacco use prevalence is as high as 54.8% in adults. Exposure to second hand smoke is also very 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 Tonga to as much as 76% in Tuvalu.

Cost effective tobacco control interventions

The World Economic Forum in collaboration with WHO has identified a set of very cost effective interventions based on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) that, if prioritized, would significantly progress NCD prevention and control efforts. The highly cost-effective, feasible and appropriate tobacco control and prevention interventions to implement in resource-constrained settings:

  • increasing taxes on tobacco products;
  • establishing and enforcing tobacco-free indoor workplaces and public places (to protect people from the dangers of second-hand smoke);
  • mandating health information and warnings on tobacco products (which are critical in communicating health risks to those who cannot read and act as a deterrent to new users); and
  • implementing and enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (to prevent the tobacco industry from marketing).

Action towards a Tobacco-free Pacific

At the Fifth Pacific NCD Forum: Political Commitment to Resilient Action held in Auckland from 23-26 September 2013, participants shared their experiences, progress and challenges, and future plans for implementing these very cost effective tobacco control interventions. A few PICTs have developed a comprehensive progressive taxation plan for tobacco products; others have engaged premises management in enforcing tobacco-free environment laws; and many have updated tobacco control legislation to comply with the FCTC. Some challenges identified were tobacco industry interference and limited human resources.

Participants took further action toward achieving a Tobacco Free Pacific by recommending the establishment of a tobacco technical assistance network to provide rapid support to Pacific island countries and territories (PICTs). This network would assist PICTs with cross-sectoral challenges such as countering tobacco industry interference, increasing tobacco taxes, and promoting tobacco-free environments. Members of the network will include country tobacco control focal points and other stakeholders, nongovernmental organizations including civil society, and technical experts/partners.

Leaders furthering the commitment

Noncommunicable disease representatives from around the Pacific region have made significant strides toward answering the call made by the Pacific Ministers of Health affirmed their support for the adoption of the Tobacco-Free Pacific Goal by 2025 (an adult tobacco use prevalence of less than 5% in each country) at the Tenth Pacific Health Ministers Meeting in July 2013. This goal is substantially lower than the global voluntary NCD target for tobacco use prevalence established in 2011 which was to achieve a 30% relative reduction in tobacco use by 2025.

Furthermore, at the September UN General Assembly, the President of Palau, Tommy E Remengesau Jr., representing the Pacific Small Islands Developing States, underscored the need to reduce tobacco consumption in the Pacific. To emphasize the point, he reaffirmed the Pacific’s support for including NCDs in the post-2015 development agenda and he highlighted that “tobacco consumption, which was left out of the MDGs, has a direct impact on worsening NCDs and must be separately targeted.”

Increasing taxes on tobacco products is a very cost effective intervention that encourages current tobacco users to reduce their consumption and deter children and youth from starting the dangerous and addictive habit. To support the political commitment to a Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025, Palau recently joined other Pacific Islands and passed its first ever excise tax on tobacco products, which will take effect in 2014. In the first year, the tax will be $3.50USD per 0.017kg –weight equivalent to a 20-pack of manufactured cigarettes, and there is a built-in increase to $5.00USD per 0.017kg in 2015.

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