Is letting children smoke a sin? Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi seems to think so.
In a recent documentary shown on Britain’s Channel 4, Nafsiah admits that it’s difficult to stop the smoking pandemic that grips Indonesia.
A survey released in September this year, supported by World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found Indonesian men rank as the world’s top smokers. Two-thirds of Indonesian males over 15 years old smoke.
The proportion of children who regularly smoke is rising. There’s been a seven-fold increase in the number of young children smoking in less than a decade, as quoted by Channel 4. And a quarter of Indonesian teenagers is a regular smoker.
Law enforcements are weak in Indonesia. There is no minimum age for buying cigarettes. And there is no education on the danger of smoking.
Indonesia is among a tiny handful of countries, which include North Korea and Zimbabwe, that has failed to sign the WHO’s tobacco treaty.
The treaty restricts advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products and bans sales of cigarettes to minors.
In the code of ethics, there shouldn’t be any tobacco ads within 100 m of school. But in reality, advertisements proliferating on billboards – which are plenty across the nation – portray smoking as a modern, hip activity that should be adopted by youngsters.
When asked what’s stopping Indonesia from signing the treaty, Nafsiah said that it’s difficult because the country receives revenues from tobacco tax. Tobacco industry provides employment for 10 million jobs and accounts for 10 percent of total revenues.
But Nafsiah said: “It’s a sin… when so many young kids become the victims.”
No Child Play
Although tobacco companies firmly state that they are not targeting children, but their actions say otherwise.
In a confidential marketing document obtained by Channel 4 from one of Indonesia’s leading cigarette’s manufacturers, tobacco firms are trying to get young people aged 18-25 hooked.
In the document, attributes applied include young, cool, modern, trendy and aspirational.
The Channel 4 team filmed pre-teens in Probolinggo, East Java, picking and sorting tobacco which was supplied to large tobacco companies.
Children in East Java, as filmed by Channel 4, don’t just smoke tobacco, they pick and sort it which was supplied to large tobacco companies. It’s become their source of income.
Priyono Adi Nugroho of Indonesia’s Child Protection Institute said, “Child labor in the tobacco industry is dangerous work.
“Children are supposed to go to school, study and play. Instead, they work in an industry which produces cigarettes. Then they start smoking themselves and see it as nothing out of the ordinary.”