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Smoking makes low-income people even poorer: Minister

Indonesia has some of the lowest cigarette prices in the world, with a pack costing just US$1.

In a country where 28.6 million people are still living below the poverty line, cigarette addiction makes low-income people even poorer, to the extent where some people sacrifice basic necessities — such as their children’s education — in order to buy cigarettes.

Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek said recently that she had noticed an alarming trend where children dropped out of school because their parents preferred to spend their income on cigarettes, rather than education.

“There are many children who have to drop out of school because of a lack of money. And we have lost count of how many children are malnourished because the household spending goes mostly to cigarettes,” she said.

The poorest families in Indonesia spend almost 12 percent of their incomes on cigarettes, according to a report on Indonesia by the Global Adult Tobacco Survey ( GATS ) in 2011.

Furthermore, cigarettes have become the second biggest household expense in both urban and rural families after rice, according to a 2015 survey from the Central Statistics Agency ( BPS ).

While there has yet to be a study on how many children’s educations are sacrificed because of their parents’ smoking habit, there are many real-life anecdotes.

One instance is the case of a fisherman in Muara Angke, North Jakarta, whose two children dropped out of school because their father’s daily income of Rp 50,000 went to four packs of cigarettes per day, according to National Commission on Tobacco Control commissioner Fuad Baradja.

Nila said that Indonesian children stayed an average of 8.3 years in school, further indicating that high cigarette consumption ate up money that could have been spent on other necessities.

“While there could be many reasons that children drop out of school, one of them might be because the parents are not focusing enough on funding their children’s education. Even though the government has provided financial assistance for education, why is it only eight years?” she said.

There are countless other intangible costs of smoking, which are often easily forgotten.

“If a father is smoking inside his house and his daughter is having respiratory problems because of that, just count the cost incurred from the days when she has to skip school. What about medicine for her? And the father might also have to leave work to take his daughter to the doctor,” said Nila. ( bbn )

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