Tonga, rated as one of the highest smoking countries in the world, where 46% of men and 13% of women smoke - and half are expected to die from it, has launched an intensive anti smoking campaign today.
Communities are being urged to stop smoking, support tobacco free homes and public places, to support a move to raise tobacco taxes, and to reject tobacco industry sponsorship of any kind.
Dr Reynold 'Ofanoa, Chief Medical Officer Public Health at the Ministry of Health, said today, "We know that smokers will lose about 10 years of their life. That is ten years without children, families and loved ones. We believe all Tongans have a right to live smoke free".
A "Quit Smoking Now" or "Tuku Ifi Leva" campaign was launched by the Ministry of Health in a bid to reduce the alarming statistics over the next five years.
Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva officiating at the launch also called for Tongans to stop smoking.
Half of Tonga's smokers are expected to die as a direct result of their smoking habits, said Dr 'Ofanoa. Additionally, children and adults are affected by secondhand smoke causing cancers, diseases, infections, asthma and other serious health issues realted to tobacco use.
A 2010 survey by the World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that smoking is prevalent in the kingdom with seven out of 10 Tongan students confirming exposure to secondhand smoke at least once during the past week, while 43% had parents or guardians that smoked. A further 76% had tried smoking themselves before the age of 14.
It’s estimated that harm caused by tobacco kills one person every week in Tonga, according to the Tobacco Atlas, American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation, 2012.
As part of the campaign, a toll free Quitline (0800 333) has been established for those motivated to quit smoking with fully trained Ministry of Health staff available to provide advice and support.
New tobacco laws prohibiting smoking will be enforced in public places such as bars, restaurants, markets, schools and kava clubs with the support of the Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Control Unit and Tonga Police.
Other strategies to reduce tobacco use include increasing tobacco taxes, banning tobacco advertising and promotion, creating and enforcing smoke-free areas, strengthening ‘stop smoking’ support services, holding education workshops in schools, workplaces and community centres throughout Tonga.
The Ministry of Health has set up a website www.tapuifitonga.com to encourage people to learn more about the effects of smoking and to download resources to help them stop smoking.
The Tuku Ifi Leva (Quit Smoking Now) initiative is part of a five-year strategy to prevent and control Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Of all NCD risk factors, reducing tobacco use is one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways to promote health and reduce preventable death and disability.
Tonga's National NCD strategy as well as the campaign is supported by the Australian Government, Tonga Health Promotion Foundation (TongaHealth), and the World Health Organisation.