Health Minister Nila Djuwita Moeloek said at the opening of the Fourth Indonesia Conference for Tobacco or Health (ICTOH), Monday, that the steady rise in the number of child smokers should not be left unresolved.
The minister made the statement as the number of child smokers has reached an alarming level. She said more than one-third of the population, or 36.3 percent, are smokers. Some 20 percent are youth in the age group of 13 to 15 years.
A youth community group, Smoke Free Agent (SFA), said 54 percent of Indonesian children were found to be smokers last year. Its a challenge to wean away children from smoking. Amid concerns over health hazards, cigarette industries are also intensively promoting their products/cigarettes. Children are the easiest target for the future market. If cigarette industries fail to get child patrons, they will collapse in the coming generation. This poses a huge challenge to overcoming the increasing trend of child smokers.
Moreover, if the government banned cigarettes, it would have a significant impact on the life of about 5.8 million people, including 401,989 workers in formal cigarette industries, 2.9 million tobacco farmers, 1.5 million clove growers and one million cigarette retail traders. After all, tobacco/cigarette taxes also contribute significantly to state revenues.
In 2017, for instance, the government set a revenue target at Rp149.8 trillion from taxes on tobacco/cigarettes. So, the choice would be between sacrificing health for economic benefits and sacrificing the cigarette industry for the health of the people.
The health minister said that the number of adult male smokers in Indonesia was the largest in the world at 68.8 percent. Tobacco intake constitutes one of the key risk factors for non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, lung problems and damage to blood vessels.
According to the minister, the high prevalence of smoking among children and youth reduces the quality of the nations future generation, which can threaten Indonesias demographic achievement. The best solution to the smoking problem is to kill the habit among the children first, discourage cigarette industries and provide a chance to tobacco/cigarette related workers to change profession.
This is because healthcare costs are higher than the benefits accrued from cigarettes. A study conducted in 2004 revealed that the government spent Rp127 trillion in 2001 on treatment of tobacco-related diseases, while cigarette taxes collected in the same year amounted to only Rp16 trillion.
According to Prof Hasbullah Thabrany, an expert with the National Social Security Council (DJSN), many people are still not convinced about the dangers of smoking. Research in the United States indicated that chronic diseases due to smoking in the US were the same as those in Indonesia. Hence, the best solution to overcome the problem of smoking is to prevent people, namely children, from being addicted to cigarettes.
In the meantime, the Indonesian Consumers Institute Foundation (YLKI) has called on the people to watch out for covert cigarette advertisements that would likely be broadcast during television programs in the fasting month of Ramadan. Children are being increasingly exposed to cigarette advertisements on television during the fasting month of Ramadan, particularly during the predawn meals, YLKI Chairman Tulus Abadi stated.
Tulus said, cigarette companies will likely conduct covert promotions and broadcast advertisements during key hours, such as at the time of breaking the fast under the pretext that it is a corporate advertisement and not of a product. This is a form of cheating the public. He believes that using such method is a way of deceiving the public, as the names of cigarette companies in Indonesia are the same as those of their products. Hence, the YLKI has urged the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) to entirely ban the airing of cigarette advertisements on television channels throughout the fasting month.
He added, apart from abiding by the regulations, the cigarette industry should also uphold ethics in doing its business and marketing. This is because cigarette ads are still allowed to be broadcast between 9:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. local time. This regulation is made based on the assumption that children would be sleeping during the time.