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Ashtray nation

Publication Date : 19-09-2012


Indonesia's cigarette market is considered the world's fastest developing market. Thirty per cent of the 248 million adult population smokes, which makes Indonesia the fifth-largest cigarette market in the world, says the World Tobacco website.

"Indonesia is a recognised tobacco-friendly market with no smoking bans or other restrictions and regulations in contrast to neighbouring Asean countries," the website carries on. "In 2009, the Asia Pacific region added six million new smokers and will add another 30 million smokers by 2014."

According to World Tobacco, Jakarta is "the perfect location to celebrate World Tobacco's 40th year organising international tobacco events."

Indonesia is not among countries that ratified the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which would have bound it to restrictions regarding the tobacco industry. So despite protests, Jakarta is truly the perfect location to market tobacco, not only to adults but also to future smokers, through the World Tobacco Asia 2012 event from Sept. 19 to 21.

While most smokers were addicted by the time they reached 18, says an official of the Health Ministry, an eighth of adults started before they were 15.

Younger smokers are rising rapidly, partly in response to advertisements and products catering to their age group, with varieties of "mild" nicotine content brands. And as extreme YouTube footage of puffing infants shows us, parents' displaying their own smoking habits means that "you are killing your own children", as the Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi put it.

With the absence of tobacco restrictions, tobacco companies are at the forefront in the funding of most sports and entertainment events. It remains a vital industry, with millions of workers and farmers depending on tobacco. Yet the billions from these leading taxpayers comes at the cost of virtually selling out our health by endorsing the smoking addictions of both the young and old.

The global tobacco event is evidence of our strong tobacco lobby, in comparison to that of the health advocates. The latter include former smokers, passive smokers and children of living and dead smokers, all who grew up with the classic ads of the Marlboro Man.

Many choose not to smoke; but 80 per cent of passive smokers are exposed to smoke at home anyway. The Global Adult Tobacco Survey said as of last year that we had about 60 million active smokers, or almost 35 per cent of the total adult population. With over 67 per cent of males being smokers and an increase among women, "we have failed to protect our own people," Mboi said, adding that it was clear and "unacceptable" that the government had "been defeated by the tobacco industry".

Honourable legislators managed to pass the health law without stating that tobacco was addictive. So marketing and selling tobacco to Indonesian consumers makes perfect business sense.

However, last October, the parliament passed a law on health insurance for every citizen, to take place from January 2014. So it makes zero sense if a large chunk of the national budget must be spent on the treatment and medication of respiratory diseases, cardiovascular illnesses and lung cancer, which are among the non-communicable ailments largely attributed to smoking habits.

Adults must decide for themselves whether to light up or not. But the efforts to discourage smokers by increasing excise tax and health campaigns clearly evaporate in the face of all the endorsements of big tobacco.


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