Editorial: Govt’s Blind Eye to Smoking Hurts Indonesia’s Youth
Adam Aliyyi is only 15 years old. He is a high school student, but he is already hooked on a deadly drug. Like millions of other young men and women in Indonesia, Adam is a smoker and he has been since he was 11.
It is crime that the government allows the cigarette industry free reign to target young people like Adam through advertising and sponsoring concerts and events at schools. As Adam freely acknowledges, he lit up because he saw his idols at such events doing the same and because cigarettes were handed out free.
Indonesia has one of the most lax regulations in the world when it comes to promoting cigarettes. Tobacco companies have become masters at targeting the young because they are easily influenced, and once hooked, they become lifelong customers.
A survey by the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas PA) in 2007 revealed that almost half of teenagers polled had taken up smoking because of advertising. The study also found that tobacco companies had sponsored 1,350 youth-oriented events from January to October in 2007.
Not only are cigarettes harmful to our health and a exert a huge social cost on the nation, they are the doorway to hard drugs. This has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt as once children are addicted to cigarettes, they often move to harder drugs.
If we, as a nation, do not take a hard-line stance against cigarettes, we risk losing an entire generation to drugs. The entire world has moved against smoking. In most developed countries, tobacco advertising has been totally banned and cigarettes made prohibitively expensive.
In Indonesia, however, a child can buy cigarettes by the stick for as little as Rp 5,000 (54 cents).
There can be no arguments against banning cigarette ads and stopping the spread of this corrosive vice. The government has argued for years that moving against tobacco companies could affect the livelihoods of millions of farmers, and tax revenues would fall. But it has been proven that tobacco farmers would rather plant other crops when given a chance, and every year, the country spends more than Rp 100 trillion on tobacco-related health problems, three times more than the income the government earns from tobacco revenues.
We fully understand the reasoning behind Muhammadiyah’s fatwa last week declaring smoking haram, or forbidden, given the health risks. The government can no longer push off the decision to ban tobacco advertising and making it difficult and expensive for young people to buy cigarettes.
We must look beyond the short-term losses in tax revenue and look at the long-term health and future of the nation. It is unacceptable that in this day and age, when the health and social risks of smoking have been fully proven, we continue to allow our young to expose themselves to his deadly killer.