January 14, 2011 - Anti-smoking campaigners have expressed outrage over an Indonesian court debating whether tobacco is addictive, despite international consensus that it is. A 2009 health law lists tobacco as an addictive substance but farmers from one of the country's most fertile tobacco-growing regions, Central Java, are fighting this label in a constitutional court, citing the threat to their livelihoods.
Background:Several witnesses testified to the court that tobacco is not only not addictive, but that it is accepted as a halal(legal) product and can actually be good for one's health. Professor Sutiman Sumitro, a molecular biologist at Brawijaya University, has told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program the danger posed by the tobacco is 'relative'. Sumitro: "Cigarettes are only addictive for certain people. It depends on how your body reacts to it. Some can give up easily, some can't."
Indonesia - confusion regarding possible suspects regarding the missing clause from the health bill passed in September 2009..
Dr Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, says the international evidence does not support that. "If you look at their internal documents which have been made available on the world wide web through court action in the US, there are just truckloads of documents which show that they know exactly how addictive it is," he said.
One witness, the Director of Litigation from the Justice Ministry, Mualimin Abdi, reportedly told the court it's 'nonsense' to say quitting smoking is difficult, and that it didn't take him long at all. He also reportedly reminded the court that Indonesia earns over $US6 billion in tobacco taxes every year.
Dr Kartono Mohamad, from the Tobacco Control Network, says it's the cigarette industry who are worried about tobacco being listed as addictive in the Health Law.
"They feel threatened by this categorising it as an addictive officially in the law, maybe they feel threatened that the industry cannot really expand production in terms of number of cigarettes," he said.
In Indonesia, 63 percent of men in the country smoke.
Young smokers.. Indonesia has a higher percentage of young smokers than any other country, but ignorance and a powerful tobacco lobby are making it difficult to stamp out nicotine addiction, say health workers and the government. With a population of 230 million, Indonesia ranks third in the world according to the number of smokers, after China and India, whose respective populations are more than one billion, according to the former head of Indonesia's Medical Association, Kartono Mohamad. While China and India may have more smokers given their larger populations, Indonesia has a higher prevalence among youngsters, he added.The World Health Organisation says in 2005, 400,000 Indonesians died from tobacco-related diseases, and that economic losses due to mortality and disability cost the country much more than what tobacco taxes brought in.
According to the Indonesian Health Ministry's 2008 health profile, 29 percent of Indonesians aged 10 and above smoke an average 12 cigarettes a day. Some 10 percent started smoking at between 10 and 14 years while 0.1 percent started as young as five, according to the report, which was released in 2010.
"Three in four adult males in Indonesia smoke and the worst thing is they smoke in the presence of children and pregnant women," said Mohamad, now a campaigner for the Indonesian Tobacco Control Network, an NGO.
Local media reports the judges have one more hearing before a verdict is reached.
Indonesia - paradise for smokers and paradise for tobacco companies....
References: Indonesian hearing considers tobacco addictiveness, Sajithra Nithi, Radio Australia News ABC Pacific News Centre, 1/10/2011; INDONESIA: Ignorance feeds cigarette habit among young, www.irinnews.org, 1/11/2011.
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