Sukabumi, West Java. An 8-year-old boy who smokes two packs of cigarettes a day has highlighted Indonesia’s failure to regulate the tobacco industry, the country’s child protection commission said on Monday.
After food, cigarettes account for the second-largest household expenditure in Indonesia, where nearly half the population lives on less than two dollars a day.
But there is no minimum age for buying or smoking cigarettes.
“Ilham started smoking when he was 4 years old,” the boy’s father, a motorcycle taxi driver called Umar, was quoted as saying by state news agency Antara.
“Now he can finish smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.”
The boy, who lives in a village in Sukabumi, would fly into a rage and “smash glass windows or anything” if he was not given cigarettes, he added.
“He doesn’t want to go to school anymore. He spends his whole day smoking and playing.”
The government has increased excise taxes on cigarettes, but prices remain extremely low by international standards, with a pack of 20 costing little more than a dollar.
Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), said the latest case further highlighted the government’s lack of action on tobacco control.
“This is yet more evidence showing the government has been defeated by the tobacco industry,” he said.
“The growing number of smokers is a result of the industry’s aggressive marketing targeting young people.”
The government makes about $7 billion a year in excise from the industry, which employs thousands of people nationwide.
In another case, a 2-year-old boy who smoked about 40 cigarettes a day managed to kick the habit after receiving intensive specialist care in 2010.
According to the World Health Organization, smoking rates have risen sixfold in Indonesia over the last 40 years.
Smoking kills at least 400,000 people in the country every year and another 25,000 die from passive smoking.
Battling the interests of global companies, nationalist industry groups and slow regulation reform, a small group of antismoking activists are starting to make their voices heard.
But compared to other countries, the battle against smoking here is just beginning, with officials unconvinced that public health is a greater priority than sustaining the tobacco industry.
Earlier this month, a smoking ban on all rail services came into force. Surono, a Purwokerto area spokesman for state railway company Kereta Api Indonesia, said the ban was off to a good start.
“Based on our monitoring, the first day of the smoking ban proceeded in an orderly fashion. There were a few passengers who got off at stations to smoke. We prepared special smoking areas for them at each station,” he said.
Surono said his office had worked hard to publicize the ban.
Enforcement of the smoking ban would be strict, he promised. Passengers caught lighting up on board trains will be removed at the next station.
Agence France-Presse & Antara