Reports have emerged from a number of news sources citing data from the World Health Organisation, that nearly half of all men and one fifth of all women binge drink at least once a week, more than in Ireland, Russia or Australia.
WHO defines binging as consuming six or more standard drinks on a single occaision.
Cook Islands' Director of Public Health Dr Rengi Fariu is surprised by the reports, mainly because the last official survey occurred 10 years ago. He says efforts have since been made to curb the drinking problem.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Dr Rengi Fariu, Director of Public Health, Cook Islands
FARIU: Well, I was surprised by this article to when I saw it yesterday and anectodally it's says, of course, there is binge drinking going on, but then it doesn't only occur in this country. But we don't have sufficient information on the pattern of drinking of people in this country.
The last survey we had on alcohol was way back in 2004. Then about 74 percent of people who drank, that is men and about 50 percent of women said that they were drinking, these are people who drink, it varies from one to or more than five standard drinks at each time.
And so again, if you look at our population, it's around about 15,000 now and out of those we have 3,000 tourists at any one time, and we also have a big population of foreign workers, around about 2,000 or 2,500 and so if you take away 5,000 from that 10,000, we are left with, from 15,000, we are left with 10,000 Indigenous population. And yeah, again we are not sure about this comment by World Health Organisation and how did they work it out. Yeah, but I agree there is binge drinking going on in the Cook Islands.
EWART: So, on the one hand, is there a suspicion that perhaps Cook Islands is being unfairly maligned, but on the other, maybe there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed regardless?
FARIU: We are addressing the problem, we have just lobbied government to increase the tax on alcohol. Our Police Department is working very hard in terms of health education and educating the public on safe drinking. We are banning drinking from certain public areas and we are also working on stopping government from the Alcohol Licensing Board, from giving licences to sports club and other cultural activities that happens now and then. So there are a lot of work going into that.
But yes, it is very difficult to tell whether the drinking is the Indigenous population or where there's a combination of the tourists that are, we have an increasing population of tourists that are coming in and also the number of foreign workers that we are having.
EWART: Has the situation changed markedly rapidly. I mean is there a particular issue with Indigenous Cook Islanders and their ability to cope with alcohol or is this really something that's been driven, for example by commercialisation of the drinking industry, if you like, maybe that's what's behind it?
FARIU: Yeah, there's a lot of that. There are a lot of. If you look at the drinking pattern of Indigenous population, some of them would drink until they are really drunk or out of it, but there are also a few who drink in moderation and yeah, it's very hard to tell them whose really. If you go to the outer islands, there are a small group of men who drinks nearly everyday and yet they are, most of them will be out working in the plantations and will have the odd drinks in the evening.