As countries mark World No Tobacco Day today, Indonesia is still struggling to end the deadly addiction among its citizens despite overwhelming evidence that smoking is a major killer.
Indonesia remains the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that has not ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which requires its members to ban all tobacco advertising, including sponsorships and promotions, and impose no-smoking zones.
This has led activists to describe Indonesian programs to fight tobacco addiction, especially among young smokers, as the “worst in the world.”
“Indonesia is a gigantic country, the number of smokers is outrageous,” said Fuad Baradja, head of public education at the Indonesian Smoking Control Foundation (LM3).
“People start smoking when they are toddlers. But despite the severity of the situation, we still don’t have adequate regulations that can address these problems properly. Therefore it’s safe to say our anti-tobacco programs are the worst in the world.”
World No Tobacco Day was initiated by the WHO in 1987 to encourage people to stop consuming tobacco products for at least 24 hours, but so far in Indonesia its impact has been limited.
Ministry of Health data shows that more than 60 percent of Indonesian men are smokers and more than 43 million children live with smokers.
A global youth tobacco survey conducted by the WHO in 2006 found that more than 37 percent of Indonesian high school and university students smoked, and three out of 10 admitted they started before turning 10.
Kartono Muhammad, a leading anti-tobacco activist and a former chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI), said efforts to catch up with neighboring countries in terms of curtailing tobacco’s harmful impact had thus far been ineffective, largely due to a lack of national leadership.
“Unfortunately, the efforts are sporadic and they don’t reach all parts of Indonesia,” he said. “That’s because these efforts were initiated by local governments while the central government has been idle.”
Only eight of the 33 provinces and 11 of the more than 400 districts in Indonesia have imposed no-smoking zones in public areas and facilities.
Jakarta is one of the provinces that has banned smoking in buildings but the regulation has remained largely ignored.
However, the WHO honored Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo on Sunday for his commitment to fighting tobacco addiction.
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