High Tide Bar and Grill in Avarua introduced a no smoking policy last month, and while many regular customers weren’t happy with the new rule, many others enjoyed the smoke-free environment.
The bar has since changed the rule to allow a designated smoking area off their balcony, and away from diners.
Ministry of Health policy manager Valentino Wichman says designated areas like these are something they will look at when drafting law changes to the Tobacco Control Act.
In general, Wichman says many people support creating more smoke-free environments in public places.
But, he says there are also people out there who want to smoke and when the ministry is drafting these provisions, it will have to keep that in mind.
The move to create more smoke-free environments comes amidst concerns over the toll smoking takes on the health of Cook Islanders, and the cost involved in their healthcare.
“There are direct implications on the health of the Cook Islands community, and the cost of providing health services to people who suffer, or will suffer, from tobacco-related diseases and health issues,” says Wichman.
Smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, schools, buses and cars could be completely banned, and retailers will be required to have a licence to sell tobacco products.
According to the Ministry of Health, the current laws which regulate tobacco products in Cook Islands do not effectively align with international practice.
The Cook Islands is also obligated to follow international suit under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (the Convention).
The objective of the Convention is “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”
Reforms to the current laws will also include a ban on the manufacture of tobacco products in Cook Islands.
Importers, distributors, retailers, sellers and wholesalers of tobacco products in the Cook Islands will have to hold a current licence and must comply with all licence conditions.
Retailers and sellers of tobacco products will be prevented from displaying such products for sale, and all tobacco products available for sale will have to be stored under the counter or out of sight.
Wichman says the amendments are about making sure that the Cook Islands has a healthy population going into the future.
Public Health nutritionist Karen Tairea has previously told CI News that as a result of health campaigns, there’s clearly been a drop in the number of people who smoke regularly.
“While health campaigns are doing a good job of making people aware of the dangers, sharp rises in the price of cigarettes and tobacco over the last decade or so have also made smoking less popular.”
At the cheapest retail outlet on the island a 30gm packet of tobacco costs $30 and a 50gm packet $60.
Despite significant advances in tobacco control in the Cook Islands following the adoption of the first national tobacco control action plan in 2004, available data indicates that tobacco use remains widespread.
According to the most recent survey in 2004, 43.9 percent of the population aged 25-64 are smokers, with 33.3 percent smoking daily.
Similarly, the 2006 national census indicated that 29 per of the population aged 15 years and over smoked daily.
More recently in 2008, a survey found that 30 per cent of school children aged between 13 and 15 years in the Cook Islands smoked cigarettes.
Another 2008 survey also indicated high levels of exposure to tobacco smoke, with 70.3 percent of boys and 76.8 per cent of girls exposed to tobacco smoke in public places.
The Ministry of Health say these figures are alarming for a small country like the Cook Islands.
The drafting of new changes to the Tobacco Control Act is currently underway, but the ministry cannot say when new rules will come into effect.