People have died from tobacco-related diseases since the opening of the first FCTC working group on 28 October 1999.
The Tuvalu Tobacco Control Coalition (TTCC) has a grand plan – to make Tuvalu the first country in the world to have a total ban on tobacco.
The TTCC’s chairperson, Annie Homasi, says it’s an ambitious plan but attainable.
“Since Tuvalu does not manufacture tobacco, our economy doesn’t rely on tobacco exports so we don’t have that battle to fight – so a huge part of the battle is already won,” Annie said.
In 2008, the TTCC managed to get parliament to pass the Tobacco Act. Today it is lobbying the government to ban tobacco imports and running health awareness education programmes (targeting youths in particular) in local communities. While the situation is changing, there is still a lot of work to do to make Tuvalu totally smoke-free.
Smoking - a serious problem in Tuvalu
According to a recent TTCC survey, smoking is a serious problem in Tuvalu.
The survey found that:
• Over 60 per cent of the population smoke between 20-40 cigarettes a day
• A growing number of young people (15-25 years) are smoking
• An equal number of men and women smoke
• Adult smokers send their children to buy cigarettes for them
More laws needed
According to Annie, one of the major problems is that anyone in Tuvalu can buy tobacco.
“That’s why it’s very important to bring the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) into place within Tuvalu – we need to halt and reduce tobacco use in the community,” Annie added.
Attitudes must change
Annie also said that changing social attitudes towards smoking in Tuvalu are very important.
“Parents and elders still smoke openly in front of children and young adults, plus they send their children out to buy them cigarettes,” she said. “Offering a cigarette to a visitor to one's home is considered a 'hospitality gesture'.”
All these attitudes must change, says Annie, if people are to stop smoking in Tuvalu.
What the TTCC is doing
In terms of the FCTC, the TTCC is working on:
• Enforcing the country’s Tobacco Act and lobbying for required amendments.
• Creating public awareness about tobacco law and its implementations.
• Increasing public awareness about the health and social impacts of smoking.
• Organising activities for World No Tobacco Day (31 May).
- Annie Homasi is also the executive director of the Tuvalu Association of NGOs. In 2002 she received the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in recognition of her unstinting support for the communities of Tuvalu and the South Pacific.