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Jakarta Post

Farewell, 'Pak' Sutopo

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, July 9, 2019   /   07:39 am
Farewell, 'Pak' Sutopo Dozens of mourners joined the funeral procession on July 8, 2019 to transport the coffin carrying Sutopo Purwo Nugroho's body to its final resting place at Sasonolayu Cemetery in Boyolali, Central Java. (JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi )

The antitobacco movement could not ask for a more sterling icon. The nation has been paying tribute to Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and a self-proclaimed passive smoker who died at 49 on Sunday after battling lung cancer. He had been seeking treatment in Guangzhou, China, but finally succumbed to the late stage of his disease.

For millions of Indonesians, he was a source of inspiration, courage and extraordinary moral strength as he struggled through what he described as extreme pain to work tirelessly to serve his country and its people.

Throughout the “year of disaster” that was 2018, which was filled with earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, landslides, tsunamis and even soil liquefaction, Sutopo went far beyond the call of duty, responding to queries around the clock.

During times of panic, misinformation and hoaxes, he responded to journalists’ text messages and addressed press conferences to clear up confusing and false information on many life-threatening situations, and also to spread awareness about worst-case scenarios.

His successors will have high expectations to live up to. Among other achievements, Sutopo received the Public Campaigner Award in 2014 and was named a leading figure of “communications for humanity” by the Communications and Information Ministry last year.

We hope Sutopo’s life will continue to inspire not only efforts to increase awareness about natural disasters, mitigation efforts and early response but also the much less visible life-threatening reality that passive smokers face every day — including the families of Indonesia’s millions of adult smokers.

Persistently low cigarette prices, even as low as Rp 1,000 (7 US cents) a piece, plus President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s reluctance to further raise Indonesia’s tobacco excise this year are making it hard for people to quit smoking.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest estimates, from the 30 percent of Indonesian smokers who tried to quit, only 9.5 percent were able to. Meanwhile, the number of young smokers continues to increase, the Health Ministry recently stated. A recent survey confirmed that low-income households prioritized spending for tobacco more than healthy foods.

More public areas are now smoke-free, but many more campaigners with the spirit of Pak Sutopo are needed to raise awareness that insignificant policies and measures of tobacco control continue to perpetuate a life-threatening condition for passive smokers, young and old.