Tobacco Control in Indonesia Unsatisfactory, Advocates Say
Tobacco Control in Indonesia Unsatisfactory, Advocates Say

After years of relentless campaigning, Indonesia ’s tobacco control advocates remain displeased with the country’s implementation of tobacco control regulations as the world celebrates No Tobacco Day on Thursday.

“The current implementation [of tobacco control regulations] is far from [our] expectations. The laws clearly outline criminal punishment [for smoking-related offenses] including fines, but they’re almost never enforced,” Julius Ibrani, public lawyer and member of the Solidarity of Public Advocates for Tobacco Control (SAPTA), said in Jakarta recently.

Julius recalled the long struggle to lobby Indonesian authorities against the interests of big tobacco companies, while monitoring the deliberation of the tobacco bill, which he said was “full of procedural violations”.

Referring to ‘a study shared with the press, Julius spoke of the pattern that had marked efforts to control tobacco and smoking at the House of Representatives. The process was deliberately messy, non-transparent, exclusive and fraudulent, the study concluded. He highlighted a paragraph noting that nicotine was an addictive substance that went missing from the health bill in 1992 and which, despite uproar and active lobbying, was still not included in the law once the bill was passed in 2009.

Antismoking activists nationwide have also repeatedly called for the government to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to reduce the prevalence of smoking and to protect the community from the dangers of smoking, to no avail.

SAPTA, of which veteran advocate Todung Mulya Lubis is a member, the National Commission on Tobacco Control (Komnas PT), the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), children’s rights advocacy group Lentera Anak Foundation and the Jakarta Residents Forum (Fakta) are among the to 2015-2016 Tobacco bill contradicts prevailing antismoking regulations

Indonesia is world’s fifth largest tobacco market

Tobacco watchdogs that have continuously urged the government to sign the framework.

Among the groups’ concerns is the protection of children from the threats posed by cigarettes. Lentera Anak Foundation has consistently campaigned for a ban on cigarette advertising in public spaces. In 2017, Lentera Anak surveyed 10 cities across the nation and found that 99.6 percent of children had been exposed to cigarette advertisements.

Lentera Anak Foundation chairwoman, Lisda Sundari, said the high level of exposure to cigarette advertising could increase the likelihood children would have a positive perception of cigarettes, which could encourage them to smoke. The foundation’s study showed that 75.7 percent of smokers began smoking before the age of 19.

“Children are the main target of the cigarette industry. We can find ads everywhere, including in places children frequently visit like schools and recreational centers,” Lisda said, adding that the foundation had submitted its recommendations to the relevant authorities.

Padang in West Sumatra and Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan are among the few cities that have already adopted bans on cigarette advertising.

Furthermore, Lentera Anak and FCTC Warrior also surveyed the prices of 10 cigarette brands in 46 kiosks in 19 cities across the nation twice in December 2017 and February 2018 to compare the prices after the government introduced a 10.04 percent increase in the cigarette excise tariff. The survey found that the tariff increase did not significantly affect the prices of those brands.

Julius, who is also the secretary of the Indonesian Legal Aid and Human Rights Association (PBHI), also criticized the poor

enforcement of prevailing bylaws on regulating smoking.

“The smoke free zone bylaw has not been implemented effectively. So far, [authorities] have only issued verbal warnings but nothing more,” he said.

Julius noted that the House’s most recent attempt to pass the tobacco bill brought to light other challenges that faced the tobacco control campaign. For one, the bill contradicts prevailing regulations, such as the Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No. 1/2017 regarding the implementation of smoke free zones nationwide.

The tobacco bill, which aims to increase cigarette production, was initially rejected from the 2016 National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) by the Health Ministry. However, in 2017, the bill reentered the 2017 Prolegnas following the return of then Golkar Party politician Setya Novanto.

Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) executive board member Hendrawan Su-pratikno, who is also the deputy chairman for the tobacco bill special committee, said the committee, along with other stakeholders including the government would hold a workshop to discuss the bill. He failed to specify the exact date for the planned discussion.

Responding to tobacco control advocates’ criticism of the bill, Hendrawan said his team would look for possible solutions.

“Whether they [the activists] like it or not, the tobacco industry makes a significant contribution to the nation’s revenue,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Indonesia is currently the fifth largest tobacco market in the world with cigarette production increasing. A 2018 study from the World Health Organization showed that smoking kills up to 225,720 people in Indonesia every year by causing cardiovascular diseases.

The Health Ministry has introduced several initiatives to reduce the prevalence of smoking, including by offering free ‘counseling sessions for smokers who want to quit the habit. Despite activists’ claims that tobacco control has stagnated, a recent publication issued by tobacco control group the Tobatco Atlas stated that Indonesia had made progress on tobacco control thanks to the continuous campaign and lobbying efforts of tobacco control activists.