Small village in Indonesia is big on not smoking

Mr Abdul Wahid, who imposed the smoking ban, with a poster that reads “Cigarettes are a killer” and “You’re the one smoking, we’re the ones dying” at his house in Bone-Bone village, South Sulawesi, last Dec 20.
Mr Abdul Wahid, who imposed the smoking ban, with a poster that reads “Cigarettes are a killer” and “You’re the one smoking, we’re the ones dying” at his house in Bone-Bone village, South Sulawesi, last Dec 20. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

Settlement on Sulawesi island is first to enforce total ban for economic reasons

BONE-BONE (Indonesia) • Nestled amid mountains in remote central Indonesia, Bone-Bone looks like any other rural hamlet in the archipelago, with a modest collection of houses, shops and mosques and people quietly going about their daily lives.

But it is an unlikely champion in the fight against smoking in one of the world's most tobacco-addicted countries, after it became the first village in Indonesia to impose a total ban on smoking.

"Thank you for not smoking, say no to cigarettes" reads a sign at the entrance to the settlement on Sulawesi, one of the archipelago's main islands, while another says: "Please enjoy the scenery and fresh air in our village."

The move has inspired other villages around the country to follow suit and take the law into their own hands as the central government shows little sign of launching a determined, nationwide fight against tobacco. Such bans are just a small step in a country where 30 per cent of the adult population are smokers, and more than 200,000 die every year due to tobacco-related illnesses, according to public health experts in Indonesia.

More than two-thirds of adult males use tobacco, the highest rate in the world, according to the World Health Organisation's Global Adult Tobacco Survey, although far fewer women smoke.

Indonesia is the only country in South-east Asia that still allows cigarette advertising on television and the only one in the Asia-Pacific region not to have ratified a key United Nations treaty on tobacco control.

The domestic tobacco industry remains hugely lucrative and powerful, and it is common to see children smoking a sweet-tasting clove cigarette - an extremely popular Indonesian speciality, which dominates the local market.

But in Bone-Bone, it is a different story. Smoking has almost entirely disappeared among the population of around 800 inhabitants since the ban came into force a decade ago.

Economic concerns were what prompted then village head Muhammad Idris to implement the ban through a local by-law. He said many poor families in the area could not afford to send their children to school because their fathers spent too much on smoking, and the young people themselves got addicted.

"I went to college with 13 other students from this village, only six graduated, the rest dropped out because they spent their tuition money on cigarettes," he told AFP.

About 10 villages across the country have followed Bone-Bone's example by imposing a smoking ban.

But the fight against smoking is a tough one. Indonesia's health ministry has produced a road map to fight smoking but officials admit implementation has been poor, with a lack of coordination between different branches of the notoriously bloated and ineffective bureaucracy undermining efforts.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 12, 2016, with the headline 'Small village in Indonesia is big on not smoking'. Print Edition | Subscribe