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Cigarettes Second Only to Rice for Nation’s Poor

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As Indonesia struggles to address poverty and an overburdened health sector, a recent survey has found that spending on cigarettes is the second-biggest expenditure in poor households.

Rusman Heriawan, head of the Central Statics Agency (BPS), said on Sunday that the proportion of poor people’s income spent on tobacco was second only to rice.

Urban poor spent 25.44 percent of their income on rice, while rural poor spent 32.81 percent. Meanwhile, city-dwellers spent 7.7 percent of their earnings on cigarettes, with the rural poor spending 6.3 percent.

“This is disappointing. Expenditure on tobacco is the second-highest,” Rusman said. “Cigarettes are not calories.”

The survey showed some families had prioritized spending on tobacco over sending their children to school.

“It’s the only affordable way for them to have fun and set aside their daily stresses,” Bambang Shergy Laksmono, dean of University of Indonesia’s School of Social and Political Science, said on Sunday. “As poor people tend to have more spare time, they tend to gather to chat to kill time. Smoking is part of that.”

The problem was, Bambang said, that the “escape from reality” led to them becoming even poorer.

Henny Warsilah, a sociology expert from the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI), blamed the phenomenon partly on the government.

“The government encourages people to smoke by clearing the way for the tobacco industry,” Henny said. “There are massive cigarette advertisements and no effective smoking ban. Children here start smoking at elementary school age, something that we do not see in other countries.

“This is more about habit, rather than escape. Only a small number of people might use smoking as an escape, to relieve their frustrations.” 

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