From firstname.lastname@example.org Wed Oct 18 13:01:01 2000
Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Smoking Lights Up Revenues, Not Health
By Richel Dursin, IPS, 13 oct 2000
JAKARTA, Oct 13 (IPS) - Millions of Indonesians are dying each year of tobacco-related diseases, but the country's heavy dependence on revenues contributed by the clove cigarette industry is hampering efforts to curb the smoking habit.
In fact, cigarette consumption in Indonesia within the past decade has drastically risen from 2.7 percent of the world's total in 1990 to four percent in 1999.
"Even during the economic crisis, the number of smokers in Indonesia increased," says Mulyatim of the directorate of health promotion of the Ministry of Health.
Many Indonesians particularly like the locally produced clove cigarettes known as 'kretek'. These are mild on the throat, but they present more of a health risk than the regular 'white' cigarettes because they contain more nicotine and tar.
In Indonesia, though, there is neither a health warning or a public information campaign on the dangers of smoking cigarettes -- 'kretek' or otherwise.
Officials say the huge contribution of the clove cigarette industry to government coffers as one reason why that is so.
"The tobacco industry gives a huge amount of tax revenues to the government," says Enny Setiasih, head of school-age health of the Ministry of Health. "That is our dilemma."
Indeed, the 'kretek' industry contributes around 11 trillion rupiah or 1.3 billion U.S. dollars in foreign exchange every year to the government. It also employs at least 10 million Indonesians, from tobacco and clove farmers to factory workers, many of whom still roll the cigarettes by hand.
Argues Setiasih: "Killing the cigarette industry would be to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs."
But he also admits, "The people lack knowledge on the health risks of smoking. They think cigarette smoking does not cause death."
Official figures show that each year, some 6.5 million Indonesians die due to tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke.
Health officials also estimate at current patterns, smoking will kill some 10 million people in Indonesia by 2020.
The World Health Organisation says that tobacco would soon be the leading cause of death in the world, linked to diseases like tuberculosis, heart attack, and bronchitis.
"Smoking stunts your physical and intellectual growth," comments Clare Urwin, a nutritionist and health advisor here. "It steals your youth and kills you off before your time."
She adds, "Being a smoker means being addicted to nicotine and nicotine is a drug. So, like any other addict, when you continue to smoke, all you are doing is stopping the withdrawal pangs, topping up the nicotine and re-hooking yourself."
The health ministry has found that the average smoker is poor, but is spending as much as 40 percent of his or her paltry income for cigarettes instead of buying more nutritious food. The United Nations Children's Fund has also pointed out that Indonesian men average 10 cigarettes each a day.
This means about 3,500 rupiah (40 cents) per smoker daily -- enough to buy eggs, for instance.
Indonesian Association of Lung Specialists chair Tjandra Yoga Aditama estimates that at least 30 trillion rupiah (three billion dollars) is burned out on cigarette consumption each year. This figure, he says, does not include the amount spent treating smoking-related diseases.
But 70-year-old factory worker Agung says, "Smoking is a good way to fend off hunger pains and relieve stress." He also says that no doctor has ever told him to stop his 55-year-old habit.
According to the Ministry of Health, most Indonesian men start to smoke at the age of 15 and women at the age of 16. Youthful respondents in a recent national survey conducted by the ministry said they smoked because of peer pressure as well as the "delicious" taste of cigarettes.
At present, 60 percent or 36 million of Indonesia's male pulation above the age of 15 smoke, while four percent or three million of women above 15 light up.
Says Urwin: "The Indonesian people are constantly exposed to clever advertising campaigns, which through cigarettes sell an idea of a seductive lifestyle far removed from reality."
Indeed, smoking regulations -- much less warnings on the hazards of tobacco use -- should perhaps not be expected in a country where the local cigarette industry happens to a pillar of the economy. Instead, what cigarette producers get are incentives.
Effective Sep. 17, for instance, the government granted firms that export cigarettes or cigars at an amount of at least 25 percent of their domestic sales a six percent reduction from the excise tax payable.
The government imposes excise taxes mainly on cigarette producers at a rate of 12 to 40 percent of the retail price, depending on the output amount and the level of technology used in producing the cigarettes.
For this year's budget, the government's target for excise tax revenues is 10.2 trillion rupiah (1.1 billion dollars), almost seven percent of the budget's total revenues.
On Jun. 7, the administration of President Abdurrahman Wahid also issued Government Regulation No. 38, allowing cigarette producers to advertise their products on print, electronic and outdoor media.
The regulation amended Government Regulation No. 81 issued on Oct. 5 last year by the administration of then President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, which banned cigarette producers from promoting products on electronic media but not on print and outdoor media.
Interestingly enough, Government Regulation No. 81 also tried to limit nicotine and tar levels. It noted that each cigarette had to contain not more than 1.5 milligrammes of nicotine and 20 milligrammes of tar.
While a few activists took some consolation from that stipulation, cigarette producers warned that enforcing the regulation would result in massive unemployment since local cigarettes, which usually contain cloves, would be unable to meet the minimum tar and nicotine levels.
"It seems that the government stops at the point of reducing the tar and nicotine levels in cigarettes," Aditama says.
"Other programmes outlined in the regulation such as controlling cigarette advertising and promotions, and stronger warnings on cigarette packs, are still being ignored," he added.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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