Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Call Nanny 911. Calling the child handlers in the US television series to overcome our impossible youngsters may be the only option, as the government is ignoring the globally renowned phenomenon that is Indonesian child smokers - many of whom have just learned to walk.
Other toddlers have been found puffing - aided by their elders - since the chubby Ardi Rizal of South Sumatra won fame on YouTube. He has reportedly reduced his intake of 40 cigarettes a day following rehabilitation - so long as his parents indulges his demand for toys.
Yet the shocking reports of our tiny tobacco patrons have not been enough to move policy makers.
Therefore, we support the plan, reported in outlets on Friday, of the independent National Commission on Child Protection (Komnas Anak) to file a class-action suit against the government and the tobacco industry over their inability to protect children from nicotine.
Following the saga of the "disappearing clause" on the addictive nature of tobacco in the health bill, the Constitutional Court finally dismissed requests to remove the clause from the 2009 Health Law. Yet there is no sign of the promised regulation detailing addictive substances - which is one of the reasons behind the Komnas Anak's plan to fight the government in court.
The slow action is in pathetic contrast to the measures that preserve and increase our smoking habits. Most of our smokers are adult males, but as The Economist noted in March, the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance reports that in 2009, girls under 16 were increasingly smoking in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. The magazine noted the young female market is also a potential growth segment being preyed upon by Big Tobacco.
According to research on tobacco in Indonesia cited by Euromonitor International, "street vendors and newsagent-tobacconists/kiosks ... continued to dominate in 2010, with a 79 per cent share of retail volume sales." These vendors and kiosks are where anyone, including children, can buy single cigarettes for barely 1 US cent - legally.
Increased excises did not deter smokers. Several "mild" brands "portray the image of a modern lifestyle" that appeals to the young, the report said. "Due to their lower tar content, people are smoking more frequently, thus contributing to strong volume growth".
With no legal age limit to buy tobacco, large companies, including Philip Morris Indonesia, took the initiative to instill awareness that only those above 18 can buy their products.
A draft regulation on tobacco control stipulates that large scary pictures of the diseases resulting from smoking be printed on cigarette packages and mandates smoke-free zones.
Nevertheless, as the above report notes, "the strong tobacco industry, which contributes significantly to the local economy in terms of taxes and employment, coupled with large tobacco companies with huge financial resources to lobby the government, will maintain positive growth".
No wonder we are dubbed the "Wild Wild West" for the industry, which earns trillions of rupiah in revenue annually, as the nation remains among the least regulated tobacco markets in the world and is one of a few states that have yet to ratify the WHO treaty on tobacco control.
We are constantly reminded of the dependence of millions of livelihoods on the tobacco industry. But as cancer survivor and actress Rima Melati told the Constitutional Court: "I do not intend to close the cigarette factories." She was supporting stricter regulations on tobacco - for no nanny can order the roadside stall to stop selling cigarettes to the young, or nag concert organisers to stop requesting generous sponsorships of the tobacco firms.
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