Sun, 28 Sep 2003

Refuting myths about tobacco and smoking

Is it true tobacco controls will cost thousands of jobs? Find out the answer to this and other questions by examining some of the myths and facts surrounding tobacco and smoking: * Myth: Most Indonesians smoke. Fact: The majority of Indonesian adults do not smoke.

Most Indonesian do not smoke. About 31.8 percent of Indonesian adults were smokers in 2001, and the vast majority of smokers are men.

There is an alarming increase in the proportion of children trying tobacco products. Children are influenced by advertising and films that associate smoking with happiness and success, and they can easily buy cigarettes. This increase may be attributable in part to intensive marketing and advertising campaigns by the tobacco industry, particularly after TV advertising was permitted in 1990, and the marketing of single sticks of cigarettes for as low as Rp 300.

Advertising and promotion of tobacco products, and tobacco industry sponsorship of sports and cultural events, encourages children and youth to experiment with tobacco by creating an environment where tobacco use is normal, familiar and acceptable. * Myth: Tobacco controls will lead to thousands of job losses. Fact: The proportion of formal workers who rely on tobacco for their jobs is a small part of the labor force.

The number of Indonesian farmers involved in growing tobacco full time is equivalent to about 1 percent of the total agricultural labor force, and less than 1 percent of arable land is devoted to tobacco farming.

In 2000, workers in the tobacco industry comprised about 5.6 percent of the total number of people employed in the manufacturing sector, and less than 1 percent of the workers in the industry sector.

Declines in tobacco consumption in industrialized countries demonstrated that change in demand for tobacco is gradual and the effect on tobacco farming is not immediate.

In the U.S., tobacco farmers were not put out of work by decreasing smoking rates, but rather the children of tobacco farmers were less likely to go into tobacco farming than were their parents.

In Indonesia, such a decline generally follows overall declines in the proportion of people working in the agricultural sector compared with increased employment in the industrial and services sectors.

The reality, however, is that the number of smokers is increasing. Assuming no change in prevalence, the World Health Organization predicts the number of smokers globally will increase from 1.1 billion (1999) to 1.8 billion by the year 2025. Thus, the immediate economic need is to reduce the increase in tobacco use and people's dependence on an addictive substance. Resources spent on tobacco products could be switched to other commodities that do not result in long-term health damage. * Myth: Research about the health risks of tobacco is inconclusive. Fact: More than 70,000 scientific articles have conclusively demonstrated that tobacco use and exposure to passive (environmental) tobacco smoke is harmful to the health.

About one-half of long-term smokers die of their habit during middle age, cutting 20 to 25 years off a healthy life. More than 70,000 scientific articles have conclusively demonstrated that tobacco use causes cancers of the mouth and lung, in addition to many other types of cancers, heart disease, hypertension and other respiratory diseases.

Independently funded research has demonstrated that clove cigarettes contain 60 percent to 70 percent tobacco, and therefore possess all of the health risks of other tobacco products.

In evaluating the quality of the research findings, it is very important to investigate the source of its funding. The tobacco industry has commissioned it own research that must be viewed in light of the industry's conflict of interest in promoting tobacco product sales. Contrary to independently funded research, tobacco industry-sponsored studies have found that clove cigarettes are beneficial to the health.

The research community, however, has dismissed these findings because of the tobacco industry's conflict of interest in promoting their own products and generating additional sales. U.S. researchers have reported that tobacco-sponsored research has been edited to omit findings that conflict with the goal of promoting tobacco use, such as excluding the term "cancer". * Myth: Prohibiting smoking in public violates smokers' rights. Fact: Smoking in public places violates the rights of non-smokers to clean air and imposes physical and financial costs on others.

An individual's decision to smoke affects other people. The health risks of passive smoking are high. Maternal smoking OR maternal exposure to passive smoke during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, stillbirths and complications during labor.

Nonsmokers married to smokers have a 25 percent to 35 percent increased risk of lung cancer, and those exposed to heavy smokers for the longest time had the highest risks. Nearly all Indonesian smokers (91.8 percent) smoke at home, and there are no clean air laws for most public places. Particularly among children, the effect of passive smoke can cause lasting health damage via increased incidence of pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, ear infections and reduced lung capacity. * Myth: Smokers themselves make their own informed decisions about how to spend their money, with an understanding of the risks of tobacco use. Fact: Most people start smoking when they are children or adolescents.

The average age of smoking initiation among smokers in Indonesia is 18.4 years. Most smokers start their habit early in life, and children and teenagers do not have the capacity to evaluate the health risks of smoking or the addictiveness of nicotine.

In fact, a Global Youth Survey in Jakarta in 2000 found that 43.9 percent of students between the ages of 11 and 13 had smoked cigarettes, and about 20 percent smoked regularly. Despite the fact that smokers who quit can reduce their health risks, very few succeed because they do not understand the highly addictive nature of nicotine. Among students aged 11 to 13 who smoked regularly, 83 percent wanted to stop smoking but could not.

-- Anhari Achadi and Soewarta Kosen