But now, Taia is 43 – and she’s had enough.
In Mitiaro with a population of 155 people, there are 26 smokers. There are 34 smokers among the 435 people on Atiu, and 72 smokers among Mauke’s population of 229.
Speaking to Cook Islands News at the 21st Annual Health Conference yesterday, Taia said she was a heavy smoker and has been trying to help herself reduce smoking.
When the ministry’s team visited her island and held a meeting, she found a great way to challenge herself and be a good example to the youth and island leaders.
“I want to be a good example for my people. Mainly, it is youths in Mitiaro who smoke. So I encourage our youths to stop smoking, cut down on it and they will see the benefit.”
She said cigarettes are also expensive.
“Now I feel good, stopped coughing, energised for the past two months, have a long way to go,” she said. “I know I can do this.”
The Ministry for Health team had hoped to provide people with the tools to quit smoking, when they visited the Nga Putoru islands.
They returned two months ago, with six smokefree champions taking up the challenge of not smoking as part of ‘Cook Islands Tobacco Free 2025’ initiative.
In 2003, Cook Islands signed a World Health Organisation Framework convention on Tobacco Control Treaty. And in July 2013, the Pacific Island health leaders as part of continuing effort to resolve the NCD crisis, adopted a Tobacco Free Pacific target (meaning fewer than 5 per cent of adults use tobacco).
Cook Islands is part of the smokefree target.
Maina Tairi, from the Ministry of Health, said through working with the outer islands they had been able to introduce smokefree homes, where not even visitors were allowed to smoke in the house. Aitutaki and Atiu had started the initiative.