Activists to Celebrities: No Ads for Cigarettes

Activists have urged celebrities and other public figures not to take part in cigarette advertisements, arguing that their endorsement holds huge sway over youths and rural people.

“It’s very regrettable that a number of popular bands are willing to do cigarette ads,” Fuad Baradja, the head of public education at the Indonesian Smoking Control Foundation (LM3), said on Wednesday.

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Cigarette smoke

“Youths tend to mimic their idols, so if the latter smoke, they’ll do likewise,” he said.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak), said it was clear that cigarette advertising in Indonesia was aimed at the youth market because the adult audience was no longer as easily hooked.

“Think about it: Have you ever seen a rock star my age doing a cigarette ad? It’s all young kids and all done in a hip way, to make it look like smoking makes you cool,” said Arist, in his fifties.

He added that for the tobacco industry, it was important that they hook young consumers as early as possible, because once a smoker is accustomed to a particular brand, they were very unlikely to switch.

“This is no different from the tobacco industry carrying out a slow-motion genocide, where our children are the victims,” Arist said.

A survey by the Prof. Dr. Hamka Muhammadiyah University in Jakarta showed that 100 percent of Indonesian children and youths are exposed to cigarette ads on TV, and 68 percent responded positively to them. Fifty percent of youths who smoked said they felt more confident because of the message in the ads.

Tulus Abadi, the manager of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI), said the relatively low tobacco excise in Indonesia — at an average 37 percent of a cigarette’s price, much less than the 58 percent average for the Asia-Pacific region — allowed tobacco sales to increase while punishing poor consumers.

He argued that the low excise kept cigarettes affordable for all Indonesians, including the poor, who as a consequence had less to spend on basic commodities.

A 2009 study by the University of Indonesia’s Demographics Institute showed that cigarettes occupied second place on a list of the 25 most important household purchases among low-income Indonesian families.

Spending on cigarettes for this group was six times the spending on education, and nine times that on meat.

Tulus said this condition suited only the cigarette producers.

“Just look at the Forbes list of the richest Indonesians,” he said, noting that cigarette producers topped the list.

“There’s no reason for the tobacco industry to complain about an increase in the excise, because the people paying for it are the consumers, not the producers.”

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