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Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are a significant and common health problem in most Pacific island countries and worldwide. CVDs are the number one cause of death in the world. In the Western Pacific region, there is a 16.2% chance of dying of a CVD, cancer or diabetes between the ages of 30 and 70.
Some of the most common types of CVDs include heart attacks, raised blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the main causes of these diseases are lifestyle factors, in particular having an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol.
Unfortunately, most of the time there are no underlying symptoms or signs of cardiovascular disease until something terrible happens – usually a heart attack or a stroke. So, the best way to avoid and treat cardiovascular disease is by addressing the above mentioned lifestyle factors, of which smoking is the number 1.
Smoking alone causes more than 1 million cardiovascular deaths in the Pacific every year. More than 1 in 5 cardiovascular diseases are caused by tobacco use. While 1 in 4 people in the Western Pacific region are smokers, it is also important to remember that CVDs and death can also be caused by second hand smoke, resulting in around 168,000 deaths in the region every year.
Due to the added problem of secondhand smoke, the WHO has implemented a campaign for smoke-free workplaces, which calls on employers all over the region, including in offices and restaurants, to make their workplaces 100% smoke-free.
Some Pacific island countries have taken this a step further, implementing tobacco-free village policies in countries such as Fiji.
Studies by WHO show that as tobacco use declines as tobacco control efforts increase. Such control efforts include limiting the advertising and promotion of tobacco products, increasing tobacco taxes and promoting tobacco cessation.
The Western Pacific region has already seen great improvements in decreasing people’s access to tobacco products. For instance in Vanuatu, graphic health warnings and pictures cover more than 90% of the packaging on tobacco products. Additionally, Australia was the first country to implement plain packaging laws, meaning that the appeal of tobacco products is reduced (see picture).
It is predicted that by 2025, the prevalence of smokers in the Western Pacific will decrease to 22%. While this is a great improvement from around 25% today, there remains a long way to go.
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