A Victory in the LongWar Against Tobacco

The war against tobacco in Indonesia took a decisive turn this weekend. Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Islamic organization, has thrown its full weight behind efforts to rid the nation of its deadly smoking habits.

Indonesia Smoking Ban

Smoking man in Indonesia

After issuing a fatwa in March 2010 — telling its estimated 28 million followers that lighting up is not an acceptable practice in Islam — Muhammadiyah is now set to declare its public institutions as smoke-free zones.

This is a major victory and sends out a strong message to the rest of the country that smoking is not only deadly but also sinful. With the new decree, the organization’s 500 health centers, including hospitals and clinics, about 15,000 schools from kindergarten to high school and nearly 200 higher education institutions, will be smoke-free.

The decision is in line with the changing norms and concerns of Indonesians. No longer are the majority of Indonesians worried primarily about job security and rising food prices; achieving a good work-life balance and good health are now deemed more important.

The findings of the latest online survey by Nielsen Research should be an eye-opener for policy makers as well as the tobacco industry. As their per capita income rises, Indonesians are becoming more aware of the dangers of smoking and other unhealthy habits.

Apart from health, the concerns that ranked highly on the survey were education, parents’ welfare and happiness and their children’s future. This shift in emphasis will have lasting implications on government leaders as well as the private sector.

This is therefore an opportune time for the government to adopt an even stronger stance against cigarette advertising, which is by far the most relaxed in the region. It is time to ban the cigarette advertising on billboards and other public areas. Tobacco companies should not be allowed to sponsor sports and entertainment events where young Indonesians gather.

Indonesia remains one of only a handful of countries that have yet to sign the landmark World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. With more than 200,000 Indonesians dying each year from tobacco-related illnesses, we cannot delay acting against this killer. It is high time for the government to tackle this problem.

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