Only the good die young That’s probably what many were thinking when they heard the news of the death of Sutopo Pur-wo Nugroho at age 49 on July 7. Sutopo was the beloved spokesman of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is beset by constant risks of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods. Having to comment, provide public education and allay the public’s fears on about 2,300 disasters a year made this dedicated civil servant an unlikely (social) media celebrity.

Then in January 2018, he was struck by his Own personal disaster: he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. He claimed to .have lived a healthy life and he certainly didn’t smoke. But most of his colleagues at the BNPN did: Sutopo was a passive smoker.

In a video uploaded after his death, he said: “For the young generation, especially children, nobody will think it’s cool if you smoke, like they try to show in cigarette ads. It’s so misleading.” Sutopo’s warning couldn’t be more timely: He died about two weeks before July 23, which since 1984 has been commemorated yearly in Indonesia as National Children’s Day. When he worked as the agency spokesman, Sutopo constantly gave warnings about natural disasters. It was only toward the end of his ‘life that he warned against the danger of an unnatural disaster: the tobacco epidemic that is gripping Indonesia.

Globally, tobacco consumption has declined since 2000, except in Africa, the Middle East — and Indonesia, the third-largest population of smokers after India and China, the biggest growth, and the third-largest cigarette market after China and Russia.

Indonesia is one of the few countries that hasn’t signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This means cigarettes are still extremely cheap and cigarette advertising is not prohibited. .

According to the Tobacco Atlas, more than 469,000 children (10 to 14 years old) and more than 64 million adults (15+ years old, 68.7 percent) in Indonesia use tobacco every day. Lung cancer time-bomb anyone?

Among boys, 3.51 percent smoke in Indonesia while for girls it’s only 0.39 percent, but in both cases it’s more than average in medium to high development index (HDI) countries.

According to Lisda Sundari, deputy director for education and advocacy at the local children NGO Lentera Anak, things are getting worse: “The number of children aged 10 to 14 who smoke has doubled over the past 20 years, and has at least tripled for 5 to 9 year olds.”

In terms of deaths caused by tobacco, going by 2016 figures,’ 21.37 percent men died from tobacco- related causes. For females the figure is “only” 7.02 percent, which still translates into 967 women per week. Yikes!

The theme of this year’s National Children’s Day was the importance of the quality of the family in protecting children to ensure that the almost 80 million Indonesian children “can develop optimally, to become the next high-quality generation”.

Seriously? That’s pretty ironic, if you consider that cigarettes are the number two biggest ex-penditure after rice in most poor households, which contributes even more to their poverty .

It’s obviously also about ignorance. Parents sometimes even give cigarettes to small kids to smoke, sometimes as young as 2. Two? Yes, you read that right! Two years of age, like the notorious baby smoker Aldi who made headlines worldwide in 2010 for his smoking addiction. Some parents whose infants smoke insist that the child is healthy. Maybe it’s because they themselves are tobacco addicts. Talk about denial.

On top of parental ignorance and a permissive society, tobacco companies are actively aiming at children as the future generation of smokers, to keep the industry alive and to maintain their vast profits. Despite denying that they target children, cigarette ads are often strategically placed near schools. Cigarettes are sold together with food, drinks and sweets in the vicinity of schools. Kids can buy “loosies” — single cigarettes, for Rp 500 Qess than 4 US cents). A packet costs around $2, which for some families is almost half of their daily household expenditure.

Music concerts, sports, cultural and even religious events are famously sponsored by cigarette companies, notably Djarum, Gudang Garam and Safnpoerna. Not surprising, as the cigarette industry is One of the largest in Indonesia and some of the richest men in Indonesia are tobacco tycoons.

The Lentera Anak Foundation did a study on the famous Djarum Badminton Scholarship, which’started in 2006 ini the city of Kudus in Central Java. In 2018, it conducted auditions in eight cities, with almost 6,000 participants aged 6 to 15, who were made to wear sports shirts with “Djarum” emblazoned on their chests. What? The bodies of these young kids are being used to advertise ciggies?
The researchers asked, are these auditions for future badminton athletes or future tobacco marketers? From the 6,000 who- participated, only 23 got scholarships. So who are the real winners of the auditions? IPs Djarum, which is actually building its image as a company that “cares” when in fact it is developing its future market.

Last week, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, our newly reelected President in the vision for his second-term emphasized human resources development. “Human resources development is Indonesia’s key to the future, and its starting point is to ensure the health of pregnant women, infants, toddlers and schoolchildren.” He said he didn’t want to hear about any cases of stunting in the next five years. Indonesia is among the top countries with the highest incidence of stunting.

Pak Jokowi, tobacco addiction contributes to stunting. We have many child tobacco addicts. The annual cos.t of smoking-related diseases is estimated to be as high as Rp 11 trillion while the production of tobacco keeps rising each year: from almost 400 billion cigarettes in 2015 to almost 52§ billion in 2020. Clearly we’re not going to have the future that you envision Pak, if this trend continues.

In 2014 the National Commission on Tobacco Control (Komnas PT) asked Jokowi: “don’t pawn the future of the nation to the tobacco industry!” Please make tobacco control a priority in your second-term program Pak Jokowi!

The late Pak Sutopo was considered a national treasure. So are the children of Indonesia. In fact, they are our future. Don’t let it go up in smoke!