WHO - Indonesia is crying out for your help...

May 29, 2008 - Indonesia can no longer — and must no longer — hide behind the lame excuse that cigarette companies hold cigarettes have on us or we risk undermining out own future.

In Indonesia tobacco use has increased almost sixfold, from 35 billion cigarettes consumed in 1971 to 202 billion in 2004. According to the World Health Organization 2008 data, Indonesia is the third biggest consumer of cigarettes in the world.

No image is more disturbing than that of a young boy or girl lighting up a cigarette. According to a global youth tobacco survey conducted by the World Health Organization in 2006, 14.4 percent of Indonesian students between the ages of 13 and 15 smoked cigarettes.

A separate survey in 2007 found that 41.5 percent of Indonesian students started to smoke because they claim that they were influenced by cigarette ads. Is it any wonder that cigarette companies in Indonesia spend billions of dollars in advertising and sponsoring youth-oriented events.

Indonesia has 63 million smokers, and the World Health Organization’s Global Youth Tobacco Survey of 2006 reported that more than 1 in 10 students aged 13 to 15 smoked cigarettes. The same survey also reported that 6 in 10 students were passive smokers, while a survey the year before by the Ministry of Health said a staggering 43 million children were exposed to smoke from the people around them. A number of studies also show that the age most Indonesians start smoking is as young as 10 years old.

Indonesia is one of two countries that still allow cigarette advertising. The other is Zimbabwe, which like Indonesia is one of the largest tobacco exporters in the world.

Once hooked on nicotine, these young people become customers for life, in the process contributing to the coffers of the cigarette companies, while putting their health and lives in jeopardy.

The National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) has urged the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission to halt the airing of tobacco ads on World No Tobacco Day, which falls on Sunday. Not only must the commission accede to this very modest request, it should ban all cigarette advertising permanently. We must remove this social evil from our midst if we are to protect our youth and ensure that the next generation is not subject to severe health issues.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society and deserve protection from harm. It is the moral duty of the government as well as society at large to ensure that we do not corrupt young minds and expose them to habits and vices that do irreparable harm.

The huge profits earned from the sale of cigarettes have only enriched the companies that produce this deadly product and the tobacco czars, who are among the richest individuals in the country. In fact, among the 15 richest men in Indonesia, three have made their fortunes from cigarettes, according to the latest GlobeAsia 150 Richest Indonesians list.

To tackle this social evil, we must start with curtailing demand and that means banning all cigarette advertising. The government must also raise taxes on cigarettes so it becomes prohibitive for children and young people to buy the product. This must also include stopping the practice of selling cigarette sticks individually.

Although tobacco companies and even government officials often claim that millions of jobs and livelihoods depend on the industry, empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Research has proven that incomes of tobacco farmers have barely moved in the last three decades. Workers employed in cigarette factories still earn meager wages and perform backbreaking work hand-rolling cigarettes.

References: Tobacco Seducing More Young People, Hera Diani, JakartaGlobe, 5/29/2009; We Must Act Now To Stop Kids Smoking, JakartaGlobe, 5/29/2009; Puffing Away in Public, Ade Mardiyati, JakartaGlobe, 5/29/2009.

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