Reflections on two Pacific-area conferences

Dr. Grace Wong is the coordinator of Tobacco Control Nurses International and the director of Smokefree Nurses Aotearoa/New Zealand.


It was a beautiful sight as delegates at the 17th South Pacific Nurses Forum (SPNF) in Tonga thronged about the Tobacco Control Nurses International stand in their bright traditional dress. Each day was colour themed – hot pink Tuesday, lime green Wednesday and so on. The stand was popular with Pacific nurses who wanted to know their lung age and to have a CO monitor test. As the days went by, they also visited to talk about their patients’ and family members’ smoking, and quitting if they smoked themselves.

Delegates from Kiribati noted the slow abatement of practices related to the spiritual and cultural meaning of smoking. “When important visitors arrive on an island they are taken to religious sites where they leave tobacco products to ensure their protection and safety. They go quickly!” said Helen Murdoch, Director of Nursing, and Tareu Tong, President, Kiribati Nurses Association. “Visitors to the outer Islands take Irish cakes as gifts.” Irish cakes are tobacco in tins which is cut into strips, wrapped in pandanus leaves, and smoked. In addition, Kiribatians, especially men, connect with the spirits through inhaling and exhaling tobacco smoke. These barriers to quitting must be addressed since smoking rates are high (male = 70 percent; female = 40 percent).

While the conference was notable in that delegates did not smoke openly, nurse leaders expressed concern about smoking among colleagues as well as patients.  The smoking rate among Fijian nurses was estimated at 30 percent. Conference attendees were told that nurses observe professional boundaries and smoke when they socialise rather than at work. Similar to other countries, the challenge is encouraging nurses who smoke to support patients to quit.


Stop smoking intervention training and delivery by registered health professionals is in its early days in the Pacific. Loma-Linda Tasi has steadfastly maintained a smokefree nursing presence at SPNF since 2008. She said “It feels like Pacific Island nurses are a lot more interested in smoking cessation this time round.” Discussions with the nurses showed that smoking cessation is incorporated into WHO PEN education for non-communicable disease (NCD).  NCD and reproductive health nurses were especially interested in our stand and presentations.


International Pacific Health Research Conference

Key Pacific health researchers, policy makers and practitioners joined the Global Bridges community at our stand at the International Pacific Health Research conference in Auckland recently. There was a high level of support for the Tobacco Free Pacific by 2025 goal. Professor Mason Durie emphasised the critical role of knowledge translation to bring together scientifically credible research and Pacific cultural ideologies in order to advance Pacific people’s health. The role of stopping smoking to address NCDs was raised repeatedly at the conference. Effective work to help Pacific people to stop smoking must be based on Pacific aspirations and determinants of health, and to be empowering rather than taking the traditional research approach of looking for a problem to solve.