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Asia Minute: Indonesia’s Tobacco Challenges

NeilsPhotography / Flickr
NeilsPhotography / Flickr

Smokers who are under the age of 21 have just a couple of days left of legal tobacco puffing in Hawai‘i. On Friday, the state becomes the first in the nation to outlaw tobacco sales to anyone younger than 21. The issue of smoking among young people is also getting attention this week in Indonesia—where critics say the government is not doing enough to stop it.

Anti-tobacco activists in Indonesia say nearly a third of the country’s male residents smoke their first cigarette by the age of ten.  The World Health Organization estimates nearly two-thirds of adult males in Indonesia are smokers…and that produces roughly 300,000 premature deaths each year.

The WHO says the only places where people smoke more are China and India.  Indonesia’s government has taken some steps to slow tobacco use - taxes on cigarettes will rise by about 11% next year.

Budget figures show the government raises more than 10-billion dollars a year from tobacco taxes.  But cigarettes are still relatively cheap and critics say the government’s not doing enough to curb the national habit.  It’s still legal to smoke in government and business offices, bars and restaurants and cigarette ads are common.

This week, renewed criticism of the government has come from the National Coalition of Civil Society for Tobacco Control.  Its leader says President Joko Widodo has “caved in to the interests of the powerful cigarette industry.”

The Jakarta Post reports the Industry Ministry is targeting growth in cigarette production of 5 to 7 percent next year - a goal activists say contradicts long-range policy plans of insuring public health.  Indonesia’s House of Representatives is scheduled to take up a wide ranging tobacco bill in the new year.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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