National economic surveys have been saying for years that poor families could spend as much money on cigarettes as they do for food. (Antara Photo/Aprillio Akbar)

Study Links Smoking to Child Stunting in Poor Families


SEPTEMBER 07, 2019

Jakarta. A new study by the University of Indonesia's Social Security Study Center claims that excessive smoking habit among poor families in Indonesia is exacerbating the country's stunting problem.

Despite its middle income status, Indonesia has a childhood stunting rate on par with far poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. According to the National Health Survey, 37 percent of Indonesian children under the age of 5, or almost 9 million children, are stunted.

National economic surveys have been showing for years that poor families could spend as much money on cigarettes as they do for food.

The Social Security Study Center's latest study – conducted in Demak, Central Java and in Malang and Kediri in East Java early this year – has found evidence that cigarette consumption is one of the factors driving the unexpectedly high stunting rate in Indonesia, apart from early marriage, bad parenting, lack of exclusive breastfeeding and lack of supplementary feeding programs.

The study finds that poor families often buy cheap and less nutritious food for their children so the adults can continue their smoking habit.   

"Even when they have very little money, the husbands are often reluctant to give up their cigarette money to buy, say, eggs," said Renny Nurhasana, a researcher at the center and its tobacco control program manager.

The government has gradually increased cigarette excise in the past decade to try to curb nicotine consumption, but the strategy is ineffective.

According to data compiled by the center, the number of smokers among the recipients of the government's cash transfer aid actually increased from 2016 to 2017.

Renny said cigarettes have remained relatively affordable as producers regularly launch cheaper variants.

Smoking in front of children is also considered normal, the study shows.

Most of the time, it is the husband's prerogative to decide how much money the family would spend on cigarettes. Men often set aside cigarette money from their daily income before giving the rest to their wives. On average, as much as half of their daily income could be spent on cigarettes, the study finds.   

"When they have no money to buy food for the family, the wives often prefer to borrow money from someone else rather than ask their husbands to give up their cigarette money. Even when they have no money, the men would keep on smoking," Renny said.