With a young, productive population, Indonesia is often said to have a demographic advantage over many other countries.
But this demographic advantage may turn into a disadvantage if the country cannot kick its smoking habit.
An estimated 300,000 Indonesians die each year from smoking-related causes, one of the highest rates in the world. Ekowati Rahajeng, the Health Ministry’s director general of noncommunicable diseases, said on Tuesday that this high death toll could be attributed to the high smoking prevalence in the country, at 34.7 percent in 2010 compared to 33.4 percent in 2007.
More worrisome, the number of child smokers has surged, with one in five children at junior high school level puffing away. This is destructive to society and goes against global health trends, as more countries apply strict anti-tobacco laws.
If the government does not act now, we could lose an entire generation, especially among the lower income groups, as studies have shown that nearly 60 percent of the poorest households spent a significant part of their incomes on cigarettes.
Indonesia’s weak anti-tobacco regulations, combined with advertising, make the country the last remaining haven for the international tobacco industry, one consumer group has pointed out. On World No Tobacco Day, that is unacceptable.
Tulus Abadi, manager of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI), said that although China and India had more smokers, Indonesia was the only country in the Asia-Pacific region not to have ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Indonesia must join the community of nations who have said no to tobacco. We must break the economic power of the tobacco industry if we are to secure the nation’s future.