The government in Papua New Guinea is to introduce sweeping measures to outlaw smoking in public places. The new laws are expected to face widespread community opposition in a country where tobacco consumption is a national pastime.
A recent survey found more than 70 percent of households in Papua New Guinea contained at least one smoker, while another study showed more than half of children aged between 13 and 15 smoke.
Health advocates have despaired at such alarming statistics, especially among teenagers. But, now the government is to intervene.
Smoking in public will be outlawed and manufacturers will also be stopped from making packets of tobacco containing five cigarettes, which experts say are most popular among the poor and the young.
Papua New Guinea Health Minister Jamie Maxtone-Graham says decisive action against smoking is needed.
“Health costs is a huge burden to many countries worldwide," he said. "It's an escalating cost. Every year it's increasing. So we need to mitigate this.”
In the capital, Port Moresby, the oncology ward at the city’s General Hospital is mostly deserted, because the authorities have run out of drugs to treat cancer patients.
Head nurse Sister Ellie Winge believes the problem will only get worse, if high rates of tobacco use continue.
“I tell you, it would put more stress, so what will happen to us in 20 years time, in 15 years time? So health department and minister for health and they have to do something that… there has to be some sort of control in the country," she said.
In neighboring Australia, smoking is heavily restricted, as it is in many developed countries. However, health campaigners worry that, as tobacco companies are squeezed out of richer nations, they are increasingly turning their attention to developing economies, including China, where one in three cigarettes smoked in the world are consumed, and smaller countries such as Papua New Guinea.
The World Health Organization has estimated that one person dies every 10 seconds because of smoking-related diseases. It says that Asia, Australia and the Far East are by far the largest consumers of tobacco products.
In Papua New Guinea, the new legislation should be in place early next year, but enforcing the ban may not be easy. The most contentious part of the proposals is the prohibition of the sale of individual cigarettes by tens of thousands of street vendors. The vendors complain that their already meager earnings will drop as a result and have vowed to ignore the laws.