Enabling Teachers as Tobacco Control Champions
On the 31st of May, the world commemorates its’ annual World No Tobacco Day. Initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO), it is a day that highlights risks attributed to tobacco use, whether in health or other development dimensions. It is also a day that underlines the importance of effective policies in the effort to reduce tobacco consumption. In Indonesia, this year’s straightforward theme, ‘a threat to development’, rings highly true. As one of the highest cigarette smoking country in the world, inconsistencies surrounding tobacco control continues to raise disputes.

Tobacco: a threat to sustainable development

2017 will mark the second year we enter the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) period. While socialization and information dissemination remains on top of the agenda for most adopting countries, many would agree that it is high time to begin the implementation phase. In the comprehensive set of 17 goals and 169 targets, tobacco control is specifically mentioned as a means of implementation for health-related goals and targets.

Recognizing the critical position of tobacco control in development efforts, its’ imperative to know just how pressing the situation is in Indonesia. Indonesia is struggling with the problem of young smokers, with three out of ten smokers being young people of the age 15-30, and most smoke their first cigarette before they’re 19 (Riskesdas, 2013). Worse yet, it places Indonesia as the world’s highest growing rate of beginner smokers.

This is cause for alarm, as the achievement of SDGs by 2030 will depend not only on the current development actors, but also on the quality of development actors and policy makers in the future - youth today. What will become of the 65 million youths when a quarter of them are smokers (Riskesdas, 2013), increasing their vulnerability to Non-Communicable Diseases that are attributed to tobacco consumption?

Behaviours, whether health-conscious or not, are not inherent, they are learned. So are habits, which are formed by new behaviours that become automatic. As a child’s Schools main learning institution, children study and absorb behaviours that are hoped to be useful in their future. Teachers, has an undeniable role in moulding the lives of students, becoming role models for students, a parental figure almost; in a place where they spend most times on aside their own homes.

Shaping behaviours through learning institutions

Each school resident that smokes contributes to the growing number of smoking students. Principals, teachers, administrators, security guards, when they smoke in a school environment, are also offering undesirable influence on its’ students. Given their strategic role in a learning institution, teacher attitudes and behaviours have even stronger potential to shape students’ behaviour, through modelling.

To curb the effect of tobacco to students and schools, the Minister of Education officiated the Minister Regulation No. 64/2015, providing a guideline for authorities at all educational level to take proactive preventive action upon encountering smoking behaviour at schools. According to the regulation, everybody who is present at a school environment is subject to strikes, reporting and sanction upon caught smoking at school environment. 

As an institution, it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that rules are applied, providing safe spaces for all its’ residents to participate equally in its’ enforcement. However, The Global Youth Tobacco Survey (2014) results show that more than two thirds of students aged 13-15 have noticed someone smoking inside the schools. Tobacco advertising inside the school perimeter is also banned, although, in reality, several steps from the school are all it takes to see cigarette advertisements posters and banners with youth-oriented messaging. 

Teachers: influencers beyond the classroom

Schools being actively involved in preventing tobacco consumption are not only about implementing rules; they can also contribute on prevention in other ways. As role models, teachers can be made aware on how their visible smoking behaviour affects students, backed with data-driven evidence that shows how other than parents, a teachers’ smoking habit leads students to perceive smoking as positive action and therefore has the potential to inspire students to smoking.

Another way to empower teachers in preventing tobacco consumption is through collaboration with health promotion specialists and civil society organizations. Teachers can be provided specific trainings to deliver tobacco prevention curriculum. Supported with the right tools, teachers can embed useful information such as impacts of tobacco consumption in their teaching modules, adapted to the students’ characteristics and their respective subjects. Through the facilitation of teachers, families can also be involved in a school’s effort to create tobacco-free spaces. Engaging parents through assignments and interactive tasks can lead to better home situation regarding tobacco consumption.

The potential for teachers to become an influence beyond the classroom are plenty, given the opportunity. Tobacco control interventions that empower students would have stronger effect when paired with activities that also increase the teachers’ awareness. With almost 150,000 public primary schools, there is a wide opportunity to deliver prevention programs through teachers’ empowerment in key stages of youth development.

Finally, teachers in Indonesia as the main actors of human resource development need to reflect on one of Ki Hadjar Dewantara teachings, “education and teaching in the Republic of Indonesia must be based on the culture and society of Indonesia, and meant to achieve the advancement of both mental and physical well-being”.

By : Anindita Sitepu and Fadjar Wibowo
Anindita Sitepu is a health psychologist and Fadjar Wibowo is a medical doctor and health policy observer. Both work for the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives (CISDI)

Share this: