Sun, 18 Jun 2000

Political support, people's role key to fight smoking

JAKARTA (JP): More political support and people's participation are needed to control the increase in the number of smokers and smoking-related illnesses in the country, Minister of Health Achmad Sujudi warned on Saturday.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the start here of a Southeast Asia antitobacco flame relay, Achmad expressed his concern about the significant increase in smokers in developing countries, including Indonesia.

"On the contrary, in several countries like the United States and Australia, the number of smokers is declining, which means their governments' campaigns to reduce cigarette consumption are effective," he said.

National cigarette consumption within the past decade recorded a drastic rise from 2.7 percent of the world's total in 1990 to 4 percent in 1999.

Quoting a 1995 socioeconomic census report, Achmad said 6.5 million people across the country suffered illnesses stemming from tobacco.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that smoking- related illnesses are expected to kill 10 million people annually by 2030 if tobacco-free campaigns are not heeded.

Tobacco, the WHO said, will top the list for cause of death in the world, by triggering diseases like heart attacks and lung cancer. Cigarettes have already killed one out of 10 adults in the world nowadays.

Achmad suggested that Indonesia learn from developed countries in controlling the rise of tobacco consumption.

"The campaign should include increasing cigarette excise, controlling cigarette advertisement and promotion, and imposing nonsmoking areas, he said.

Advertisement control in many countries has proven to bring down cigarette consumption to 8 percent within six years, and the imposition of nonsmoking areas curbs smoking by between 4 percent and 10 percent, Achmad said.

Therefore, he added, strong political will is mandatory to boosting the campaign.

The government of former president B.J. Habibie issued a regulation last year which stipulated that each cigarette had to contain no more than 1.5 milligrams of nicotine and 20 milligrams of tar.

The regulation also designated more nonsmoking areas, including in public places and workplaces, and restricted cigarette ads.

But only two months after its enactment, the new government of President Abdurrahman Wahid reviewed the country's first regulation on cigarette tar and nicotine levels, following pressure from local cigarette producers.

The producers warned of massive unemployment if the ruling took effect. Local cigarettes, which usually contain cloves, would be unable to meet the minimum tar and nicotine levels.

The WHO-sponsored antitobacco campaign in Indonesia will last until August. The flame will pass through eight provinces, including Bandung, West Java, on June 24, Yogyakarta on July 1, South Sumatra on July 22, Pontianak, West Kalimantan on July 29 and Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Aug. 5.

Some 1,000 people, mostly students, will be involved in the relay, which includes a long march and bicycle ride.

Initiated in India on Jan. 8, the flame will pass through eight Asian countries before finishes back in India on Jan. 7, 2001. (09)