The Jakarta Post
Home to 61.4 million smokers, Indonesia is witnessing more and more of its young people enjoying cigarettes as their candy.
There is a certain moment that domestic helper Casmi dislikes every time she returns home to Brebes, Central Java.
'My son always asks me for some money to buy cigarettes,' said the woman, who works in Jakarta.
Annoyed, she always ends up giving a few thousand rupiah to her 15-year-old son.
Studies have indicated rising numbers of juvenile smokers in the country and that underprivileged families squander a significant portion of their earnings on cigarettes. The smoking trend has even reached some toddlers.
In 2010, two-year-old Ardi Rizal from South Sumatra made international headlines after being spotted chain-smoking while riding his tricycle. The controversy surrounding the toddler's 40-stick-a-day smoking habit has led the government to set a rehabilitation program for him.
Thanks to the program, Ardi has stopped smoking, but around the country, the problem is far from over.
The Tobacco Atlas found that some 2.6 million Indonesian children use tobacco in smoke and smokeless forms each day.
The Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2014, initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Ministry, found that 19 percent of surveyed Indonesian teenagers smoked.
Almost 6,000 students in grades 7 to 9 across the archipelago took part in the survey. Over 30 percent of the participating students claimed to have tried smoking, meaning they had taken at least one or two puffs of a cigarette.
Despite a national ban on selling cigarettes to people underage, the survey found that three in five underage smokers were not declined when trying to buy tobacco products at stores or kiosks.
The young smokers, however, appear to realize the perils of smoking with four in five having tried to quit.
The survey also confirms the concerning prevalence of second-hand smoking, with 60 percent of students being exposed to tobacco smoke at home and inside enclosed public places.
'We need approach this through the family,' said Eni Gustina, the head of health promotion at the Health Ministry. 'Parents should be reminded not to introduce their children to cigarettes, as it is classified as [abuse] against minors.'
Another survey found that poor Indonesian families spent an awfully large sum of money on cigarettes.
Filtered kretek (clove cigarettes) is the second largest spending allocation of poor families in the country, after rice, the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) announced in January last year.
Those living in cities direct 11.18 percent of their monthly spending to cigarettes, while underprivileged families in rural areas see 9.39 percent of monthly costs going toward smoking.
The Tobacco Atlas claims that a smoker in Indonesia would have to spend 14.5 percent of the national median income to purchase 10 of the cheapest cigarettes each day.
To curb the smoking prevalence among youths and poor families, the National Commission on Tobacco Control (Komnas PT) chairman Prijo Sidipratomo suggests that the government increase cigarette excise taxes. 'Our excise rate is far below neighboring Brunei Darussalam, which applies an 85 percent tax excise,' he said.
The government announced in November last year an increase in tobacco excise taxes, by an average of 11.19 percent, which started on Jan. 1, 2016. The highest tax increase, of 12.96 to 16.47 percent, is applicable to machine-rolled cigarettes and the lowest increase, of 0 to 12 percent, applies to hand-rolled cigarettes.
Prijo criticizes the cigarette industry's aversion to the excise hike and their claim that the move will adversely impact the industry and 1.6 to 2 million tobacco farmers.
Prijo and tobacco-control activists label the industry's claim misleading as data from the Agriculture Ministry and the BPS states that the country only had 853,000 tobacco farmers in 2013 ' representing 2.1 percent of all farmers in the country.
Most cigarette sales profits, he said, did not go to the farmers but to major cigarette companies, many of which are controlled by foreign investors. 'And let's not forget that 60 percent of tobacco in the industry is imported,' Prijo said.
Hasan Aoni Aziz of the Indonesian Cigarette Producers Association (Gappri) confirmed that companies are forced to import tobacco as local farmers cannot produce enough Virginia tobacco. 'It is because not all regions have the right kind of soil to cultivate Virginia tobacco,' Hasan said.