A day after Muhammadiyah issued a fatwa banning its followers from lighting up, both the organization and antitobacco campaigners have targeted cigarette advertising as one of the main culprits behind a generation of new smokers.
“We issued the fatwa because we believed those advertisements were targeting children and teenagers. This could ruin the country’s future generations,” Ahmad Zaenuddin, who heads the Jakarta office of Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Islamic organization, said on Wednesday.
He added that it was common knowledge that tobacco companies used prominent celebrities in their advertising to convince young people across the nation that smoking was fashionable.
“The children will follow the lifestyle of their favorite public figures and TV stars,” he said. “This is one of the dangers of tobacco advertising, because they use actors who can capture the young people’s attention.”
Aside from issuing the fatwa on smoking, Muhammadiyah is also expected to lobby the government to immediately ratify the World Heath Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which mandates that signatories implement methods to reduce tobacco use.
Adam Aliyyi, 15, a senior high school student in the capital, told the Jakarta Globe that he started smoking when he was 11 years old.
“I was able to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day,” he said. “But I have cut down somewhat because I am not so healthy anymore. I only smoke on Saturday nights now.”
Adam said that he had started smoking because cigarettes were heavily advertised and promoted at concerts and events, which are often sponsored by tobacco companies.
“I love attending youth events. Some are even held at my school and they discreetly offer us free cigarettes there,” he said.
Dr. Kartono Muhammad, a leading antitobacco campaigner and former chairman of the Indonesian Medical Association (IDI), confirmed that cigarette advertising had a significant impact on children.
“Children are the best imitators and they want to be like their role models,” he said. “Children are exposed to these advertisements on the streets and at musical performances where their idols light up.”
Kartono also said smoking could act as a gateway to hard drugs. “Once children are addicted to cigarettes, they tend to try other, stronger addictive substances. They will want more.”
A survey by the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) in 2007 revealed that almost half of teens 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.