Religious leaders in Indonesia come together to say that smoking is forbidden, urging for higher tobacco taxes

A worker smokes a cigarette during a break at a fabric factory in Solo, Indonesia Central Java province, August 11, 2016. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

There are many disagreements when it comes to religion, but one thing that religious leaders in Indonesia can all agree on is that smoking is harmful.

Yesterday, religious leaders representing Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, as well as economic experts, held a joint press conference to denounce smoking and branded it forbidden in their respective religions.

“Smoking causes self-harm and is harmful to others, while money being spent on cigarettes is an act of wastefulness, which is forbidden by the religion,” said Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) Secretary Anwar Abbas, as quoted by Tempo.

“Hinduism doesn’t allow its followers to poison their bodies,” said Parisada Hindu Council (PHDI) leader I Gede Ngurah Utama.

Catholic priest Benny Susetyo suggested that the most effective way to reduce smoking in Indonesia (which has some of the highest smoking rates in the world, particularly underage smoking) is by increasing taxes on tobacco, and, consequently, cigarette prices.

“It’s undeniable that cigarette prices in Indonesia are among the cheapest in the world so they’re easily accessible by children and the poor,” he said.

A survey conducted last year showed that 72% of Indonesians would quit smoking if cigarette prices were more than doubled to around Rp 50,000 ($3.75) per pack. However, officials and smoking rights advocates (yes, seriously) who argue against stricter rules and higher tariffs on cigarettes usually talk about the economic benefits that tobacco brings to Indonesia, mainly focusing on the plight of poor tobacco farmers who might be put out of work if the government were to crack down on smoking (though some will admit to the crucial importance of tobacco taxes on government revenue).

The Indonesian parliament seems set to pass a controversial tobacco bill in the near future, which would roll back many important existing health regulations, like health warning requirements on tobacco products and the ban of cigarette ads aimed at children.

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