Jakarta. Indonesian children are an easy target market for the tobacco industry, said Lenny Rosalin, the deputy head for child growth and development affairs at the Women Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry.
According to data from the Health Ministry, 0.7 percent of 79.5 million children in Indonesia are active smokers.
"Children are a promising target market because potentially they can become long-term smokers. In 2018, the Health Ministry reported 0.7 percent of children between the age of 10 and 14 were smokers," Lenny said in an online discussion.
Meanwhile, the number of smokers among children aged between 10 and 18 had increased from 7.2 percent in 2013 to 9.1 percent in 2018.
"We tried to lower the number to 5.4 percent by 2018, but we were unsuccessful. We have set a new target to lower the number to 8.7 percent by 2024," Lenny said.
According to the 2018 Tobacco Control Atlas Asean Region, Indonesia has the highest rate of male teenage smokers in Southeast Asia.
"The percentage of male teenage smokers in Indonesia has been the highest among Asean countries with 35.5 percent, and 3.4 percent for female teenage smokers," Lenny said.
According to her, children are easily exposed to cigarette advertising, which means parents must be more alert in protecting their children from their messages, both explicit and subliminal.
According to a survey by the ministry, children and teenagers are most exposed to cigarette ads they regularly see in kiosks, sports events, music events, free samples, merchandise logos and discount offers.
Lenny said ministries, government agencies and the public should work together to reduce the number of child smokers by, among others, fighting for the revision of the 2012 government regulation on tobacco products as addictive substances.
"The regulation should ban tobacco advertisements on broadcast and print media, restrict ads that involve children and teenagers, prohibit cigarette sales to minor and set priorities for raising awareness about the dangers of tobacco products to children and teenagers," she said.
Pediatrician and member of the Indonesian Pediatric Association (IDAI) Darmawan Budi said nicotine in cigarettes could retard children's growth, intelligence, behavior and concentration by damaging the brain's cortex.
"The earlier they start smoking, the harder it would be for them to stop. Cigarette addiction is a gateway to narcotics," he added.
Aside from conventional cigarettes, Darmawan said electronic cigarettes could also be a threat for children, mainly because they look harmless.
"Electronic cigarettes have enticing flavors and fresh aromas that are attractive to children and teenagers," he said.
Darmawan said electronic cigarettes are as dangerous as conventional cigarettes because they also contain nicotine and other toxic substances such as propylene glycol, glycerine and carcinogens.
"A lot of people think electronic cigarettes are safer and can help them to quit smoking conventional cigarettes, but that is not true," he said.
Smokers also tend to suffer from more serious versions of Covid-19 when they get infected, Darmawan said, pointing out that they seem to get more severe complications and are more likely to die from the disease.
"Cigarette smoke stimulates the Ace-2 receptor that enables Sars-CoV-2 to easily adhere to the respiratory tract and increase the infection risk. This can also happen to children," he said.