June 11, 2009

Children increasingly targeted by cigarette industry

The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Mon, 06/08/2009 11:10 AM | National

Children and teenagers are prone to be the main target of the cigarette industry, medical doctors, professors, and activists said Saturday.

Speaking in a discussion on the need for picture warnings on cigarette packs, they agreed that as the third biggest consumer of cigarettes in the world (according to the World Health Organization 2008 data), Indonesia needed to more intensely protect children and adolescents.

They strongly proposed warnings in the packages had to include images of the dangers of smoking and its effects, such as lung cancer, mouth cancer and strokes.

The speakers said pictures would be more effective than words.

"The cigarette industry targets children and adolescents, for they are future smokers," said M. Joni, deputy head of the National Commission on Child Protection.

According to the Central Statistical Agency, a high incidence of smoking is found in children between 15 and 19 years old, with an increase of 12.9 percent in 2001 to 17 percent in 2004.

"Just look at cigarette advertisements, they never use old people, they use young, healthy teen idols," Joni said in the discussion, which was held by the Tobacco Control Support Center (TCSC) in cooperation with the Indonesian Association of Public Health Experts.

Lung cancer patients are also getting younger, from an average of 19 years old in 1995 to 17 in 2004, according to the TCSC.

Farid Anfasa Moeloek, head of the National Commission on Tobacco Control, said two important things in controlling cigarettes were the government's political will and regulations that really protected the public, especially on cigarette distribution, cigarette advertisements, and the distribution of information on the dangers of nicotine.

Indonesia is the only Asian country that has not ratified the FCTC - the WHO's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.

Although Indonesia had contributed to the drafting of the FCTC in Geneva, the government has yet to ratify the convention.

The clauses brought by Indonesia and used in FCTC included protection for children under 20 years old, increasing tax from 70 to 80 percent, advertising regulations and health warnings.

Farid said the increased tax could be used for public health programs.

"With the current 37 percent tax, the government can have about Rp 54 trillion. This should be used to address smokers' health problems."

"If cigarette taxes are increased, more funds would be available to provide public health insurance.

"And it's not the industry who will pay for it. It would come from the public, in form of higher prices of cigarettes." (iwp)

References: Children increasingly targeted by cigarette industry, The Jakarta Post, 6/8/2009; Tobacco Seducing More Young People, Jakarta Globe, 5/29/2009.