Indonesia under fire on world anti-tobacco day

Indonesia's failure to ban tobacco advertising or enforce laws against smoking in bars and restaurants came under heavy fire Monday as the United Nations marked world anti-tobacco day.

The country of some 240 million people is one of the last vestiges of laissez-faire tobacco controls in the world and is paying the price in terms of growing rates of addiction, especially among women and children.

Indonesia's addiction to tobacco and tobacco industry tax revenues were graphically illustrated last week with the release of a video on the Internet of a two-year-old Javanese boy with a 40-cigarette-a-day habit.

But Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih said it was up to city governors to regulate smoking and tobacco advertising, effectively ruling out a national response.

"It is time we protect children and women from cigarette smoke. It requires courage to fight against tobacco," she said according to Vivanews.com news website as she urged city governors to issue tough anti-tobacco regulations.

Cigarette consumption in the Southeast Asian archipelago soared 47 percent in the 1990s, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Almost 70 percent of men over 20 years of age smoke and regular smoking among adult women almost tripled to 4.5 percent between 1995 and 2004.

Some cities including the capital Jakarta have set limits on smoking in public places but the rules are widely ignored, and tobacco advertising - much of it aimed at women and teenagers - is ubiquitous.

Tobacco companies such as Philip Morris subsidiary PT HM Sampoerna employ around six million Indonesians and contribute more than six billion dollars a year to state coffers in excise taxes alone.

Yet cigarettes remain extremely cheap by international standards, with a pack of 20 costing a little over a dollar.

"The spike in growth of new smokers in Indonesia cannot be separated from the country's weak regulations and abysmal law enforcement on tobacco use," The Jakarta Globe said in an editorial.

"The government has shown no political will to take on the powerful tobacco industry despite a growing public outcry."

Indonesia is the only country in Asia not to have ratified the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

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