Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

Cook Islands ban vapes, smoking age raised to 21

Publish Date
Wed, 22 May 2024, 2:49pm
Non-communicable diseases were the main reason for clamping down on tobacco and vape products.
Non-communicable diseases were the main reason for clamping down on tobacco and vape products.

Cook Islands ban vapes, smoking age raised to 21

Publish Date
Wed, 22 May 2024, 2:49pm

By Caleb Fotheringham of RNZ

The Cook Islands are set to ban imitation tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes, and will raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

Importing and distributing imitation tobacco products could result in an $100,000 fine or up to three months in prison for an individual.

While businesses caught doing the same face a $1,000,000 fine, additionally, non-compliant businesses will incur a daily penalty of $100,000 for each day the violation continues.

Visitors over the age of 21 will be exempt from the new rules and are allowed to bring one imitation tobacco device with up to 30 millilitres of liquid.

Other restrictions mean tobacco products can no longer be displayed for sale and smoking in public places is banned, except in limited exceptional cases.

Businesses selling tobacco products will also need a licence to do so.

The Tobacco Control Amendment Bill 2024 passed its third reading in parliament last week, with most members of parliament supporting it, and MP George Agene - locally known as “action man” - was even inspired to vow publicly to quit smoking.

“Eight o’clock tonight, I am separating cigarettes from my life,” he told Parliament.

Health minister Vainetutai Rose Toki-Brown said vaping needed to be dealt with before it got out of hand.

“We have been challenged to address this matter while it is still new and young in our country,” she said.

However, United Party leader Teariki Heather was not supportive of the bill, arguing it encroached on people’s “freedom of choice” and “human rights”.

He also questioned how bad health outcomes from smoking were in the Cook Islands.

“If you don’t smoke, you will still die; if you smoke, you will die,” he said, adding that his grandfather who smoked tobacco lived to 94.

‘Not realising the bad effect’

Te Marae Ora Cook Islands Ministry of Health chief executive Bob Williams told RNZ Pasifika children as young as 6 and 7, attracted by sweet flavours, were getting hold of vaping devices from their own families.

“They’re not directly buying from vendors or shops, but they do have access to these vape devices,” Williams said.

“Families are not realising the bad effect these things will have [on] children, with what’s contained in the liquid.”

Williams said vaping has been promoted by tobacco companies as a less harmful alternative to smoking.

However, he believes evidence shows it is not.

He said the continued rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) - a major cause of deaths in the Cook Islands - was the main reason for clamping down on tobacco and vape products.

The Cook Islands are a signatory of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which Williams said the new rules align with.

“Many countries around the world are at different stages of progressing to meet those convention requirements, but not only because of that, it’s also looking at what’s happening here in the Cook Islands with the number of people that have been diagnosed for NCDs, and that number has increased.”

Need for tobacco alternative

Nick Dun, the manager of South Seas, a store in Rarotonga which sells e-cigarette products, said he thought vaping provided a better alternative to tobacco products.

“It means some people will unfortunately fall back into tobacco smoking, which may be harder to give up in the future and will impact them financially,” Dun said.

He said his business felt there was a need for alternatives to tobacco products.

“For a lot of people, they believed that they actually felt better, and when they started vaping [they] didn’t want to go back to tobacco smoking.

“For a percentage of our customers, vaping was basically them trying to give up smoking, and kind of the stepping stone to giving up.”

However, he said some of his customers have indicated once vaping becomes outlawed, they are going to try give up smoking completely.

Dun thinks the tight rules will likely result in a black market for vapes and related goods.

“When anything is made illegal and there is a demand still for it, unfortunately, there will be people that will try smuggle them in some way.

“It will make it completely unregulated.”

Dun added businesses not would risk going against the new rules because of the severity of the penalties.


Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you