Health & Medicine

Indonesia: Hooked on smoking cigarettes


Indonesian smoker (Image by Flickr user joaquimb (cc: by-nc)).

This story was originally reported by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

In recent years, smoking rates have gone down in many countries around the world, but not in Indonesia. It’s among the few countries in Asia that have not signed the World Health Organization’s treaty on tobacco control. And smoking rates actually seem to be rising.

One reason is that Indonesian smokers are getting younger. Sociologist and anti-tobacco activist Imam Parsodjo told PRI's "The World" that 3 percent of 5- to 9-year-old Indonesians are already smokers.

Many of the nations poor aren't kicking the habit, even though cigarettes can be expensive. A 2006 paper by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee found that rural poor in Indonesia who make less than $1.00 each day spend an average of 6 percent of their budgets on alcohol and tobacco (pdf). Among people making less than $2.00 per day, that number jumped to 6.8 percent.

"The World" interviewed one man making about $2.00 per day playing guitar in bus stations, who spends about half his salary on cigarettes. He said, "I don’t earn very much. It’s only when I have a good day that I can eat. First the money goes on cigarettes, then on rent, and then on food."

Government officials may be reluctant to pass anti-smoking laws, due in part to the economic power that tobacco companies hold. Indonesia is the world’s fifth largest cigarette producing market and taxes from cigarettes account for about 10 to 30 percent of government revenue. The industry also employs millions of people, giving it sizeable political power, too. Experts believe tobacco's influence throughout the country is making it tougher for Indonesians to kick the habit.

PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More "The World."