World's smallest state aims to become the first smoke-free paradise island

It is the world's smallest self-governing state, with a population of just 1,400 and few resources other than fish and coconuts. But the South Pacific island of Niue believes it can set an example by becoming the first country in the world to go smoke-free.

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.

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.

Niue's problem is that, despite all that, everyone is leaving. The population is in steep decline, and some believe it has dropped below a sustainable level.

When Niue was granted independence, its people were given New Zealand citizenship and the chance to emigrate – an offer that now threatens Niue's survival. There are 20,000 Niueans in New Zealand, and those left behind intermittently debate whether the island should rejoin its former colonial ruler.

Successive governments have failed to lure expatriate Niueans home. The island's isolation and lack of resources make for a fragile economy and Niue is heavily dependent on New Zealand aid and foreign remittances. Its main export is taro, a root vegetable. The capital, Alofi, has two shops.

If Niue becomes smoke-free, it may lose another 250 residents. New Zealand's anti-smoking laws are not quite so draconian.

Suggested Topics
News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits