Siti Supari, now a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, said the government should exercise extreme caution because the tobacco business was the livelihood of a great number of farmers and workers.
The former health minister claimed those farmers and workers should be the main consideration. That is outrageous. Our main concern should without doubt, be public health, surpassing the case of the farmers and tobacco workers.
We are surprised that such a controversial statement came from Siti Fadilah, who only left her health minister post in October 2009.
She also said that restricting the tobacco business and consumption was a foreign idea, which might not be fully appropriate in the local context.
This may be a serious insult to Muhammadiyah and the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) who proclaimed that cigarette smoking should be considered haram.
Indonesian people reject control, especially from foreigners. Siti Fdilah must have noticed to her dismay that all tobacco companies are required to state in their own electronic and print media that “smoking causes cancer, heart disease” and other serious conditions.
Treating lung patients with cancer, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other debilitating diseases, I know by daily personal experience that almost invariably, the culprit is tobacco.
Smoking, including passive smoking, causes immense suffering, not only for the patients, but also for the families around them.
Lots of money is spent on smoking and eventually, for containing the diseases that result from smoking.
Siti Fadilah, the tobacco industries and the government share a common erroneous mindset that anti-tobacco campaigns are a serious threat to the industry, and that because of that, many people will loose their livelihood.
This is not only deceptive, but also a totally incorrect perception, for the simple reason that there is no authority whatsoever that can stop addicted smokers.
Many millions of them will keep on smoking and maintaining the livelihood of farmers for many years still to come!
Cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance, just like opium, heroine or cocaine. This fact is opposed by addicted people, and particularly by those who love tobacco money so dearly.
Siti Fadilah needs to remember, that as long as people are addicted, they will keep on smoking, and will keep the industry alive as well.
The new Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, has an entirely different approach. She is optimistic the government will be able to enforce a regulation completely banning all cigarette advertisements in electronic and print media, despite strong opposition from tobacco industries and farmers. We wish her success!
Dr. Muherman Harun is a pneumo-phthisiologist.