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Two people die every minute in the Western Pacific due to tobacco. Around 450 million people in the region are smokers, which accounts for more than one third of smokers worldwide. Globally, tobacco use costs more than 1.3 trillion USD in annual healthcare expenditure.
Tobacco use in the Pacific is extremely high. For instance, over 65% of men in Kiribati smoke and approximately 62% of the women in Tokelau smoke. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the Pacific and across the globe.
Because of this avertible killer, in 2013 Health Ministers in the Pacific committed to the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 goal. They pledged a target of less than 5% adult tobacco use in every Pacific island by the year 2025.
To support the Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 goal, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has adopted a regional action plan. This involves raising taxes on tobacco products, supporting cessation services, and protecting from second hand smoke, among other efforts.
WHO has supported Ministries of Health implement a number of initiatives throughout the Pacific islands. For instance, in Fiji, many towns and cities have committed to expanding tobacco free public places. The most recent was Levuka, which was declared a tobacco free town by Health Minister Hon. Rosy Akbar and WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr Shin Young-soo in May.
Other successful anti-smoking initiatives have been going ahead across the Pacific. This year Vanuatu joined Fiji and Samoa in implementing graphic health warnings on all its tobacco products. The Cook Islands and Fiji have increased taxes on tobacco over the past several years. In Kiribati, elders continue to expand the smoke-free maneaba – or meeting houses – programme. Such initiatives have been instrumental.
There is still a long way to go, but with a whole-of-community approach, Tobacco Free Pacific 2025 is possible.
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