Health Opinion

Tobacco industry leaving Indonesia up in smoke

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Children as young as two years old have made news headlines for picking up the habit (Screenshot via YouTube)

A lack of regulation, heavy advertising and subservience to the tobacco industry has resulted in Indonesia having one of the highest global smoking rates, writes Duncan Graham.

INDONESIAN POLITICIANS are getting in a righteous tizzy over child protection. Their target is online pornography and gambling, and their condemnation is absolute. Curiously absent is another kiddy-harming vice that reportedly takes more than 200,000 lives a year. 

Next time you hand over a fifty to fuel a filthy habit, you'll wonder where to get coffin nails cheaper without getting caught in a Melbourne gang war.

Ponder no longer, dear reader. We’re here to help. Nirvana’s next door.

You can indulge, avoid guilt from reading ghastly health warnings and have a splendid holiday. And all before your next visit to an oncologist.

Addicts’ paradise is close — a bit over three hours if you live on the west coast, far less if flying from Darwin.

Once you've cleared Immigration and the money changers (tip — rates are better outside the airport), taxi to any convenience store and spend up.

For a pack-a-day person, a two-week supply will cost around forty to fifty Oz bucks depending on the brand — and there are more than 3,000.

That's a saving of $700 — the cost of getting there. The bad news is importing. Oz Customs will sniff out your load.

Other expenses will be hotel and food between hacks, but also a fraction of Australian prices. We only die once, so why not enjoy, then come home to a cancer ward and be covered by Medicare?

Political scientists should also make the journey north to witness the power of big baccy, much of it overseas-owned. It makes the Australian fossil fuel lobby look like the CWA.

Tobacco control in Indonesia is as sensitive as gun control in the U.S. Proposed reforms get stymied. Armageddon is threatened with every hint of public health trumping corporate profits.

Indonesia is supposed to be the only country in the world allowing ads for cigarettes.

The chair of the National Commission for Child Protection, Arist Merdeka Sirait, has been quoted:

“...the cigarette industry has defied Indonesian law. The Government has been defeated by the cigarette industry.”

Ads show lads having grand adventures, scaling mountains, abseiling and bush camping with mates. In the pictures and videos, they're all young sporting heroes, ripping fit, clearly never touching the product they're promoting.

Some images show handsome professionals at laptops, struggling with ideas for a mighty project, then finding their creativity fires up with the snap of a lighter.

The cheekiest twist on our slogan in English, Never quit, often shows a sweating sportsman supposedly winning.

A favourite has a stack of white coffee cups with the top one steaming. This flicks away the prohibition of showing the white stick.

Bans on the word “mild” get bypassed with clever typography: MLD is printed with the upright stroke on the L made bold.

To protect the kiddies, no ads on TV till 9:30 PM. So they’re shown on huge street screens at school route intersections, starting at 6 AM.

There's a health message as a footer, usually a small photo of an ancient with a tracheotomy. But we can't hear him gasping for life and don't know his name. Could be an AI hoax.

Although there's some small text about the dangers, it's drowned by images of fun and success. Occasionally a pretty woman peeps from behind but she's there to admire and reinforce. Smokers get the gals, right?

A few trendy metro ladies light up to show they can keep up, but in this depressing story here's something positive: In Indonesian culture, a woman fingering a cigarette, however proper her appearance and morals, is reckoned to be a prostitute.

Advocates for women’s equality will rightly be enraged by this gross generality, but the reality is that the slur is effective; less than four per cent of adult women smoke.

The figure for men, 70 per cent for over 14s, shows warnings aren't working. Why should they? In any group bonding with baccy, no one will know of anyone with a hole in their throat.

On the contrary, nearby will be an oldie with egg yolk fingers who's never been sick in his life — so here's proof that smoking doesn't kill. When Allah calls, time's up. No need for an autopsy to find the cause.

A few health-conscious cities ban smoking ads, bravely forgoing the revenue raised by taxing displays.

Overall, the industry gives the Government about AU$13.6 billion. This year, the excise ramped to Rp1,193 a stick — about nine Ozzie cents. 

In Australia it’s almost $1.30, apparently making smokes in our country the dearest in the world. The idea was high prices would force users to quit. Instead, it has created a new criminal industry flogging cheaper imports.

There’s a black trade in Indonesia selling leaf from small farmers seeking a better return on their crops. The Government’s response has been even bigger billboards warning of penalties for selling black baccy.

These feature stern old men in uniform and oceans of text.

They’re no match for the leaping studs selling a clear and simple message: Your life is humdrum, you’re locked into poverty and boredom.

Seeking escape? Just cough up the cash — three lousy bucks.

PS: While in Indonesia, inhale some of the culture and taste real adventure.

Duncan Graham is an Australian journalist living in East Java.

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