February 5, 2011 - Kudus ('Kota Kretek'' - Kretek City), strongly Islamic town and the birthplace of kretek (Indonesian clove cigarette) located in Central Java. About 75 per cent of Kudus's population of 800,000 are employed by the cigarette industry, and there are almost a quarter of a million workers - almost all of them women - who handroll kreteks, Indonesia's distinctive clove cigarette.
The women work in pairs, and with astonishing dexterity. Each pair typically makes more than 5000 cigarettes a day. The price reflects a concessionary tax regime that highlights the Indonesian government's controversial approach to regulating the industry, where the protection of the 6 million workers directly employed in the industry, and their extremely wealthy bosses, trumps health concerns.
Indonesia is one of the world's last bastions of laissez-faire regulation of tobacco use. Ads still run on TV; the football league is sponsored by a tobacco company, as are pop concerts, and cultural and sporting events, where young women often hand out free packets to anyone with a ticket. (Indonesia - paradise for smokers and paradise for tobacco companies..)
Rates of smoking are rising - up 26 per cent in the past 15 years as women and youngsters take up the habit. One in four boys aged between 13 and 15 now smoke and 70 per cent of men do. Just 5 per cent of women smoke, but that percentage has tripled in the past decade.
The health and economic effects are devastating. More than 400,000 a year die from health-related illnesses, according to the World Health Organisation. Another survey found that Indonesian households with smokers spend more on cigarettes than fish, meat, eggs and milk combined, and four times more than they outlay on education.
Tax from cigarettes brings in $6.2 billion for the government, about 8.5 percent of revenue, but, says Ruli Mustafa of the anti-smoking group Combat, the health costs each year are ''far bigger'', more than $21 billion by one estimate. In Kudus, though, where the streets are festooned with banners from smoking companies, many argue that kreteks, the choice of 88 per cent of smokers, are in fact healthy. Local legend has it that Camhari, the Kudus native who invented kretek, was cured of asthma after he added cloves to tobacco.
Kudus does have an anti-smoking campaigner, of a type. Bambang Kismanu is the head of the health department office in Kudus and has a budget of about $50,000 a year to encourage people to give up cigarettes. Each school in the regency now has no-smoking signs and teachers have mostly stopped lighting up in the playground, he says. Efforts are concentrated on fourth and fifth graders, amid alarming evidence of pre-teens taking up smoking.
"We are trying to get buildings to become non-smoking areas, but we have only two so far," Bambang says. ''That's here [at the health department office] and at the manpower ministry." As we talk I spy a dirty ashtray in his office. "'You smoke?"
"No, it is just for guests. I've given up,"' Bambang replies. We say our goodbyes, but I return a few minutes later to use the bathroom, surprising Bambang. The portly health chief is drawing deeply on a kretek, chatting away with a group of his staff, all of them smoking at their desks.
Reference: A nation of smokers that won't turn over new leaf, Tom Allard, The Sydney Morning Herald, 2/5/2011.
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