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Asia

How young can Indonesia's smokers get?

The number of children and adolescents smoking in Indonesia is increasing annually. International experts are worried about the health of the country's young population.

Two-year-old Ardi Rizal used to smoke up to 40 cigerettes per day

Two-year-old Ardi Rizal used to smoke up to 40 cigerettes per day

Seeing smoking teenagers is not uncommon in Indonesia. During the last few years, cigarette smokers are becoming younger and younger in this country. However, seeing a boy like the two-year-old Ardi Rizal who started smoking when he was just 18 months old was still a shock for many people.

According to the Central Statistics Agency, the percentage of children aged between 5 to 9 years who smoke increased from less than 1 percent in 2001 to nearly 3 percent in 2004.

Tobacco industry seduces youth

Based on the national Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2006, nearly 40 percent of Indonesian youth have tried out cigarettes, and more than 30 percent have had their first cigarette before the age of 10. As a result, around 12 percent of Indonesian youth are regular smokers.

Teenager smoking on the streets of Jakarta

Teenager smoking on the streets of Jakarta

"We believe the reason that a large number of children and adolescents take up smoking here in Indonesia is because firstly, they can buy a single cigarette; not just in one single package", explains Louise Baker from the World Health Organization (WHO) in Indonesia. She also complains that tobacco advertising is not as regulated as it should be. Baker would like to see a ban of all public advertising, promotion, and sponsorship by cigarette companies, because advertising encourages and attracts young people to take up smoking.

Economic and social problems due to child smoking

Tobacco is the cause of many diseases which can be fatal, including cancer. According to the World Health Organization, tobacco-related diseases caused about 400,000 deaths in Indonesia in 2005.

Besides health concerns, smoking also causes other problems to Indonesian children and adolescents. Louise Baker shows that there are significant economic and social problems connected to the smoking as well. "Around 20 percent of the income of a poor Indonesian family is spent on cigarettes. So they spend slightly more on rice than they do on cigarettes", she says, "They spend less on food, on health care and on education. And I think that is a potential impact for a future generation of Indonesian children, if they are not spending that money on education and health care."

Tobacco ad in Jakarta

Tobacco ad in Jakarta

Government must protect youngsters

Indonesia is the country with the third highest consumption of tobacco in the world. About 70 percent of men in the country are smokers.

Mark Hurley from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in the US believes the Indonesian government must act immediately on this problem: "The government must act now to protect young people from tobacco use, and the government can do this by enforcing an advertising ban, raising taxes on tobacco products, and increasing public awareness of the harm of tobacco use."

The World Health Organization has passed a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control - trying to ban smoking in public places. Indonesia is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not yet signed on to this treaty.

Experts maintain that even though smoking is potentially addictive, smokers can still get rid of their smoking habit, if they are provided enough support. After all, even world-famous two-year-old Ardi Rizal has reportedly quit smoking.

Author: Pin Manika

Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

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