Sat, 04 Jun 1994

Tobacco laws do not cause unemployment

I was privileged to be invited to Indonesia to speak at the National World No Tobacco Day Symposium in Jakarta on May 31, 1994. I was very impressed by the considerable amount of community work and publicity already carried out by the Indonesian Heart Foundation, the Cancer Foundation, LM3 and others on the dangers of smoking, with particular emphasis on informing and protecting Indonesia's children from taking up the habit. These activities are far more than many countries in this region.

But health education alone is not enough to fight this dangerous and addictive habit that, according to World Health Organization (WHO), already kills 57,000 Indonesians every year. This figure includes people who have smoked since their teenage years, reach middle age and die from the habit.

Most countries in this region have now combined health education with national regulations and legislation. However, in Indonesia, there seems to be widespread concern that to introduced tobacco control legislation would result in unemployment among tobacco farmers and workers.

This fear is completely unfounded. Even with the best tobacco control policies, smoking is only reduced very gradually -- usually by less than one percent a year. This would be more than compensated for by the increase in Indonesia's population and the fact that more young people (girls as well as boys) are taking up the habit.

Tobacco workers are becoming unemployed but, ironically, the finger of accusation should be pointed elsewhere - at the tobacco companies. It is not the Ministry of Health or the health organizations, but the tobacco industry itself that is laying off workers, because they are increasingly introducing mechanization into their factories, so that tobacco production is becoming much less labor intensive.

Economist and those concerned with labor and employment can be reassured that there is absolutely no reason for comprehensive tobacco control policies not to be implemented. It will not reduce the tobacco work force for decades to come.


Hong Kong