PAPUA New Guinea is preparing legislation to control rampant tobacco use Cheapest Cigarettes In The World, with a survey revealing that 42% of high school children smoke regularly.
Acting Health Secretary Elva Lionel said in a speech at Gordon Secondary School in Port Moresby to mark World No Tobacco Day: "Children as young as 10 years old are smoking. Where is this country heading?"
The cabinet is considering legislation to control tobacco use, and to halt access to cheap smuggled cigarettes.
The World Bank, with the backing of Australian Aid, launched a report yesterday on tobacco use, which said PNG was one of the 10 countries with the highest use per person.
A packet of the same brand of cigarettes costs in PNG 47% of the price in Australia.
The government has announced its indexing program for tobacco excise will rise by 10% a year for the next five years, pushing the tax up to about 70% of the retail price. But a large amount of the tobacco consumed in PNG is smuggled across the porous 820km border with Indonesia without any excise being paid.
And many people, especially in rural areas, smoke a highly potent home-grown tobacco, brus, which largely goes untaxed.
The World Bank report urges that tougher pricing "must be supported by other control measures, including advertising bans, smoke-free zones, public education, graphic messaging, and enforcement of rules against selling tobacco to minors".
The proportion of the overall population who smoke is 40%.
The bank said: "It is an important development challenge, imposing a significant burden to households, particularly poor households" - accounting for up to 7% of household total expenditure, and up to 27% of the food budget.
Ms Lionel told the Gordon students: "Just because illegal tobacco is cheaper doesn't mean it's better. It is just as harmful.
"Girls are smoking. Women are smoking. This is not good for our country."