World's smallest state aims to become the first smoke-free paradise island
A small slice of island paradise, the world's smallest self-governing state, with a mere population of 1,400 people wants to set a goal for the rest of the world to follow.
The South Pacific island of Niue is close to becoming the world's first smoke-free country.
There are about 250 smokers on Niue, a speck of coral with a GDP of barely NZ$6,000 (£2,280) per person, and local officials say the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses is placing a heavy strain on the health budget.
Sitaleki Finau, Niue's director of health, is backing a bill to prohibit smoking and the sale of tobacco in public areas and private homes. The bill has been presented to parliament, but the government has not yet signed up to it. Dr Finau said he expected a ban to face stiff opposition from the tobacco industry and other commercial interests. But he urged MPs to be bold and vote for it.
"Small countries are allowed to be ambitious," he said yesterday. "If a small country can do this, then big countries will start thinking. Imagine what that means." The government would lose revenue from tobacco taxes but that would be more than offset by savings in the health budget, he said.
Like many countries, Niue – which translates as "behold the coconut" – has banned smoking in government offices and public buildings. But outlawing tobacco would be a radical step – particularly on an island so relaxed that, according to one saying, the dogs chase the cats at walking pace.
One village, Tuapa, has already declared itself smoke-free. Tobacco is not sold there, and villagers refrain from smoking in public and during ceremonies.
I think this is an excellent idea. I mean, obviously because the country is so small they can implement regulations like this (can you imagine trying to do this in the states or France for example?) but they could definitely be an example for the rest of the world to at least think about, if not follow.
It is not news that smoking causing premature deaths and puts a massive strain of the health system of every country, but with the leadership of a small idyllic island, things could start to change.
Of course there are complications and the vote could still be a ways away, but it is an interesting idea if nothing else.
Dr Finau said the government would have to consider whether a ban infringed smokers' rights. "There has been mixed reaction," he said. "It's one of those difficult political issues, because there are commercial interests against it, and the government has to look at it in relation to tax. A tobacco-free country sounds pretty straightforward and simple, but there are some complex issues involved."
No date has been set for a vote, which could be two years away. Niue, 1,375 miles north-east of Auckland and 312 miles from Tonga, its nearest neighbour, is a former British protectorate. Britain gave it to New Zealand as a reward for the latter's contribution to the Anglo-Boer War, but since 1974 it has been independent "in free association" with Wellington.
Those who live on the island, 100 miles square, regard it as a South Pacific paradise. Beaches are heavenly, crime is non-existent, and the plentiful seafood includes crabs so large that people walk them on leashes. The locals serenade each other on guitars while watching tropical sunsets.
Of course, people might leave if they are no longer allowed to smoke there, but that's their loss really isn't it?