Spending almost all day sitting on his motorcycle Iwan, 30, an ojek (motorcycle taxi) driver at Slipi intersection, West Jakarta, thinks nothing is more relaxing than drinking a glass of hot, black coffee and smoking a pack of cigarettes amid the scorching heat and choking haze from passing vehicles.
Working from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., he has to take turns with dozens of other ojek drivers to pick up passengers who want to use their services. He earns between Rp 40,000 (US$4) and Rp 70,000 a day, and lets at least Rp 10,000 of his daily earnings go up in smoke buying cigarettes.
“My wife has repeatedly told me to stop smoking so that we can start saving money,” he said. “But, how can I? I have nothing else to do except smoke while waiting for my turn [to get passengers].”
Iwan is just one case in the Health Ministry’s data, which shows that 34 percent of citizens more than 15 years old are smokers. The figure is enough to put Indonesia in the world’s top three in terms of the number of smokers, trailing only China and India.
A 2007 study by the Indonesian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (IFPPD, found that 12 million heads of poor families smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. With more than 60 percent of the Indonesian labor force currently working in the informal sector, more effort should be put into running anti-smoking campaigns for this group, Soekidjo Notoadmodjo, a professor of public health at the University of Indonesia, said.
“Unlike those who work in offices, people who work in the informal sector, like street vendors or public minivan drivers, are not tied down to particular work schedules or regulations,” he said. “Having flexible working hours, and sometimes excessive spare time, they simply consider smoking as a way to kill time and alleviate boredom.”
Bambang Setiaji, an official at the Health Ministry’s Health Promotion Center, said anti-smoking campaigns would be more effective if they shifted away from health reasons and focused on economic concerns. “Most smokers know that smoking may harm their health, but they just turn a deaf ear as they hear it [the message] too often,” Bambang said Wednesday, after defending his doctoral thesis on public health campaigns at the Faculty of Public Health, University of Indonesia.
“It would be more convincing if we told them [the smokers] they could buy a healthy meal for their family instead of a pack of cigarettes,” he said.
Involving 157 ojek drivers in Depok, West Java, Bambang conducted a four-month campaign through several media, using posters and biweekly discussions, on the economic benefits of kicking the habit.