More tax hikes to curb Pacific smoking

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Samoa is the latest nation to announce it will raise its tobacco taxes in its 2014-15 Budget. Photo / Chris Skelton
Samoa is the latest nation to announce it will raise its tobacco taxes in its 2014-15 Budget. Photo / Chris Skelton

More Pacific Island countries are making moves to increase taxes on tobacco in a bid to reduce the high incidence of smoking - and related deaths - in the region.

The Pacific Tobacco Taxation Project has been in the works for the past three years, trying to change attitudes in the region, where one-third of the world's smokers are from.

Smoking is one of the biggest killers in the Pacific.

Up to 75 per cent of the deaths from non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and respiratory diseases are related to smoking.

The project - a World Health Organisation initiative - has seen four Pacific countries increasing taxes on cigarettes, with more indicating they will do the same.

Samoa is the latest nation to announce it will raise its tobacco taxes in its 2014-15 Budget.

It follows moves by the Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Tonga to bump tobacco taxes by up to 15 per cent.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), based in New Caledonia, has also been heavily involved in helping Pasifika countries to kick the habit.

The group's tobacco and alcohol adviser, Jeanie McKenzie, said changing attitudes had been difficult given the "normality of smoking" in the region.

"It's impossible to say why smoking is so popular in the Pacific, but [tobacco] is fairly affordable.

"In some countries, there are more women that smoke than men."

The SPC is working with 22 countries or states in the Pacific.

Ms McKenzie said one of the key factors for so many people in the Pacific smoking was that tobacco was so cheap.

Cigarettes can be bought cheaply - a packet of 20 costs about nine tala ($4.83) in Samoa.

Increasing taxes would not stop everyone from lighting up, but it was a step towards change, she said.

"From a health point of view, if we want people to stop smoking, we've got to put the tobacco tax up - we want to hit them big."

Smoking among Pacific Islanders in New Zealand is just as high, with one in four Pasifika taking up the habit.

Tala Pasifika - the national Pacific tobacco control service - was established by the Heart Foundation in 2009 to enhance Pacific leadership on tobacco issues.

Programme manager Stephanie Erick said they had worked with community and church groups to change attitudes towards smok-ing.

"One issue that we've talked about is people buying cartons of cigarettes in Duty Free and taking them back to the islands when they visit.

"It's a cultural thing. They know lots of people smoke and so cigarettes are such an easy gift - they just open up the carton and pass them around."

Smoking in the Pacific

About 75 per cent of deaths are non-communicable diseases. Tobacco-use is the main factor.
Kiribati: 59 per cent of population smoke.
Nauru: 50 per cent.
Samoa: 40 per cent.
Tonga: 27 per cent.
Cook Islands: 33 per cent.
Papua New Guinea: 44 per cent.
Wallis and Futuna: 43 per cent.

Source: Secretariat of the Pacific Community

- NZ Herald

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