Indonesia fatwa on smoking sparks anger, debate

JAKARTA, Jan 28 (Reuters) - Indonesian smokers and the country's tobacco industry have slammed a move by the nation's top Islamic body to place restrictions on tobacco use by Muslims, calling it an interference in private lives.

Health campaigners welcomed the move, but said the government now needed to do more if there was to be any impact on curbing smoking in the world's fifth largest tobacco market.

While stopping short of an outright ban, the Ulema Council, or MUI, issued a fatwa at the weekend prohibiting smoking in public places or by pregnant women and children. [ID:nJAK385669]

"I am angry about the fatwa, because both my father and grandfather are smokers and the new fatwa now makes them sinners," said Abdul Hardiyanto, 38, a Muslim stock broker. Fatwas are not legally binding in the world's most populous Muslim nation, but there is pressure to adhere to them or be regarded as sinful.

Smoking is widespread in Indonesia, with cigarettes among the cheapest in the world at around $1 a pack and the nation famous for its traditional sweet smelling clove cigarettes known as "kretek".

"Is MUI playing God here?" questioned Adhitya Wisena.

"I am going to keep smoking, because religion must stay away from this matter. We have government regulation for this kind of thing," added Wisena, 33, a Muslim who works in a fish shop.

Some cities in Indonesia, including Jakarta, have banned smoking in public places, but the rules are widely flouted.

Many Indonesians also have a strong cultural affinity with smoking, with pressure to hang out and smoke after celebrations for births or weddings in villages across the archipelago.

"If you have money, you can buy cigarettes for yourself. If I have my own money, nobody can stop me," said Dewi Astuti, a 36-year-old Muslim woman.

The fatwa has also been condemned by the country's tobacco business and Indonesia's finance ministry estimated that it could trigger a drop in cigarette output of 5-10 percent in 2009.

Between 1960-2005, cigarette production jumped more than six-fold to 220 billion sticks, the industry ministry said.

The edict will hurt tobacco growers as consumption falls, the chairman of the Tobacco Farmers' Association in the Jember district of East Java told the Antara news agency.

The $8 billion tobacco industry in Indonesia plays an important economic role, with tax on cigarettes accounting for about 10 percent of government income in the past, while the sectors provide millions of jobs.

Indonesia's national commission on child protection welcomed the fatwa, although said the government should do more.

It urged Indonesia in a statement to ratify the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The FCTC aims to reduce tobacco consumption, including through a ban on advertising and promotion, but Indonesia has been reluctant to sign up because of concerns about the impact on the economy despite the health risks from smoking.

$1=11290 Rupiah Additional reporting by Dicky Christanto and Jennifer Henderson, Writing by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Ed Davies and Sanjeev Miglani