CAIRO - The Indonesian Ministry of Health has approached the country's largest Muslim organization seeking its help to curb smoking in a new campaign against the deadly habit in the world's most populous Muslim nation.
Basically, we explained what this regulation is about, how dangerous tobacco addiction is, and that we need help to successfully implement it because it would be impossible without the help of every stakeholder, including NU, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the director general of disease control and environmental health at the Ministry of Health, told the Jakarta Globe on Sunday, January 8.
The initiative was launched last Friday when Aditama, along with Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, met with Islamic leaders in Nahdlatul Ulama to explain the dangers of smoking.
Seeking their help, the health officials explained how the new suggested regulations, which form a part of the 2009 Health Law, would be implemented.
Aditama said support from NU was crucial because it has more than 30 million followers.
NU has explained their stance about tobacco and the leaders have promised they will bring this issue to their national meeting, and now we'll just have to wait for their decision, he added.
Indonesia is the world's third biggest cigarette consumers after China and India.
At around $1 a pack, cigarettes in Indonesia are among the cheapest in the world. More than 60 million Indonesians are active-smokers.
An estimated 200,000 Indonesians die each year from tobacco-related illnesses.
Smoking-related diseases kill six million people each year and drain $500 billion from global economy each year, according to the latest edition of "Tobacco Atlas" issued by the WCTOH.
Tobacco use will kill 1 billion people worldwide in the 21st century if current smoking trends continue, WHO warns.
Approaching the Islamic organization, health officials were concerned that NU's followers, who are also tobacco farmers, would oppose any regulations that would affect their livelihoods.
But we have explained again and again that this regulation does not prohibit people from smoking, it is just trying to protect children and pregnant women from the health risk from being exposed to tobacco, Aditama said.
Moreover, numerous NU clerics were heavy smokers themselves, the organization's deputy chairman, Slamet Effendy Yusuf, told the Jakarta Globe.
Supporting the move himself, Yusuf said that the new regulations, proposed by the government, aimed to control tobacco and protect young people from the addictive chemicals in cigarettes.
He added that he expected the new regulation to be issued soon, but what about others? There are many others who do not share my idea, he said.
NU secretary general Marsudi Syuhud said NU could not yet give its full support to the proposed government regulation because the organization had not yet thoroughly considered it.
Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim organization, has banned smoking years ago.
NU has defined smoking as makruh, or a habit that is best avoided but does not constitute a sin.
Unlike Muhammadiyah, it has never issued a fatwa against smoking.
Earlier in January 2009, about 700 scholars of Indonesia Ulemas Council (MUI) banned smoking in public places and for children and pregnant women.
But they stopped short of issuing an all-out ban on smoking.
Though there is no direct mention of banning smoking in the Qur'an, a habit that was not spread during the early days of Islam, most scholars deem it haram (prohibited).
They rely on a hadith by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) saying that Muslims must abstain from anything harmful.