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Cook Islands bans vapes, raises smoking age to 21

Friday 17 May 2024 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Health, National, Parliament


Cook Islands bans vapes, raises smoking age to 21
Minister for Health Rose Toki-Brown in Parliament on May 15, 2024. LOSIRENE LACANIVALU / 24051515

Cook Islands Parliament passed a bill banning imitation tobacco products like e-cigarettes and raising the smoking age to 21.

Te Marae Ora Ministry of Health’s Tobacco Control Amendment Bill 2024 was passed in Parliament yesterday with support from majority of the Members of Parliament.

The bill bans the manufacture, importation, sale, distribution and advertising of imitation tobacco products, including vapes/e-cigarettes, in the Cook Islands.

It prohibits the import of imitation tobacco products by anyone who has been living in the Cook Islands for the past six months, since the enactment of the bill.

Cook Islands residents, permanent residents and work permit holders are not allowed to bring in any imitation tobacco products for personal use, sale or distribution if they leave and return to the Cook Islands.

Tourists or visitors over the age of 21 are allowed to bring only one imitation tobacco device and up to 30 millilitres of e-liquid.

Any breach of the regulations by individuals will result in a fine of $100,000 or up to three months in prison. Businesses caught importing imitation tobacco products face a $1 million fine. Additionally, non-compliant businesses will incur a daily penalty of $100,000 for each day the violation continues.

The bill also includes a requirement that those who want to sell tobacco will have to apply for permits to import and distribute tobacco. The legal age of sale for tobacco products has increased from 18 to 21 years, and smoking in all public places will be prohibited with some limited exceptions where unenclosed spaces are not subject to the prohibition.

The Secretary for Health has the authority to issue the licence if the application complies with any applicable regulations. The licence will be valid for a period of 12 months.

TMO is also working with the government to reduce the rate of smoking with a phased-out approach for the Cook Islands to be smoke-free by 2030. Atiu, Mitiaro, Mauke and Mangaia will take the lead next year in 2025, with the rest of the islands following by 2030.

Opposition MP and Cook Islands United Party leader Teariki Heather opposed the Tobacco Control Amendment Bill 2024.

Heather questioned TMO on how many people were dying from smoking cigarettes in comparison to those dying from non-communicable diseases.

“If you don’t smoke you will still die, if you smoke you will die.”

The Murienua MP said smoking is a freedom of choice.

“This is our personal choice; we buy our own cigarettes and to say we need to stop smoking is very unfair. We oppose this bill because cigarettes are responsible for each individual at their own cost,” Heather said.

Oneroa MP Wesley Kareroa, who supported the bill, told the Parliament that two years ago there was a baby in Mangaia who became sick and was referred to New Zealand. The Democratic Party MP said the child was three years old at the time and a doctor who conducted their research found that there was a problem with the child’s brain that was caused by vaping.

Matavera MP Vaitoti Tupa said he had no problem with the bill as he agreed with the prohibition of smoking in public areas.

Tupa referred to research carried out by TMO in the Pa Enua that revealed a six-year-old was using vape

“As explained to us, the effect of vaping is stronger and worse than those who smoke cigarettes … Vaping should be stopped.”

Minister for Health Rose Toki-Brown acknowledged the support of the MPs.

Toki-Brown said it would be a challenge for TMO to try and reduce smoking to at least five percent or below two percent by the year 2030.

She said TMO wants to encourage people to stop smoking and encourage young mothers to live a healthy life so children live a healthy life without the effects of smoking.

Toki-Brown called on people to address the issue of smoking at their homes and communities.