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Tobacco Control Stumps Indonesia’s Health Minister

Tobacco industry lobbyists and lawmakers are rebuffing demands for stricter regulation, saying such a move would end millions of livelihoods.

“Many small industries can no longer survive. We feel like we are going to get murdered and only big industry will survive,” said Hafash Gunaman, head of the Association of Kudus Cigarette Makers.

Hafash was responding to renewed calls on the government to accede to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty convened by the World Health Organization in 2003, after the world community singled out Indonesia as the only country in Asia, the Pacific or the G20 that has not attempted to pass tobacco control laws that meet even minimum international standards.

The FCTC requires parties to legislate a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and undertake measures to ban sales to minors, reduce demand, help people end tobacco addiction, protect non-smokers’ health through indoor smoking restrictions, and eliminate smuggling.

“If the tax excise is increased, our product’s market [will shrink], because it will be too expensive. We don’t have enough capital to cope with that,” Hafash said.

There are few places in the world where cigarettes are cheaper than in Indonesia. Indeed, they are affordable even for the poorest households and children. A pack of Marlboro, including taxes, sells for $1.30 in Indonesia, compared to $9.70 in Singapore, $14.50 in New York, $3.20 in Malaysia and $1 in the Philippines and Vietnam, according to The highest price, $17.70, is found in Australia, which has some of the world’s strictest tobacco controls.

The tobacco industry has previously claimed acceding to the FCTC would threaten the livelihood of 10 million people who work as tobacco and clove farmers, factory workers and cigarette vendors.

The Ministry of Health says the framework would not hurt workers’ livelihoods, and would only regulate the tobacco trade to improve the farmers’ welfare and prevent children from taking up the habit.

“Vehicle fumes are more dangerous than cigarette smoke. But why doesn’t the government limit the number of cars?” Hafash said.

Zulvan Kurniawan from the National Coalition to Save Kretek (Cigarettes), or KNPK, said Indonesia already has a tobacco regulation and FCTC accession is unnecessary.

“Current regulationa are strict enough. But is law enforcement working?” he said.

Zulvan denied that cigarette commercials influence people, especially children, to take up the habit.

“Advertisements only inform people about cigarette brands. Smoking itself is more related to influence from people’s surroundings,” he said.

Poempida Hidayatullah, a lawmaker on House of Representatives Commission IX, which oversees health and welfare issues, said FCTC accession was a ridiculous move that would only benefit foreign tobacco.

“Everything was copy-pasted to be implemented in Indonesia based on foreign importance,” he said.

Poempida said the push for FCTC accession is motivated by trade competition and a desire dominate the Indonesian market by killing the local clove cigarette industry.

Minister of Health Nafsiah Mboi said on Wednesday she was thoroughly embarrassed during the Organization of Islamic Countries’ summit of Health Ministers in Jakarta on Tuesday. Indonesia is one of only 10 states that have not signed the FCTC, alongside Zimbabwe and Somalia.

“Somalia has not ratified the framework because they have practically no government. I really don’t know what to say about Indonesia, so I could not give any response when asked about tobacco control. But I was very ashamed,” she said.

Nafsiah said Indonesia has repeatedly violated the global commitments it made in several international forums.

In 2011, Indonesia voted in favor of a UN General Assembly resolution recognizing the most prominent non-communicable diseases are linked to common risk factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity. The meeting, attended by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, also recognized the fundamental conflict of interest between the tobacco industry and public health.

In 2011, a regional WHO meeting issued the “Jakarta Call for Action on Noncommunicable Diseases,” participants from Southeast Asian countries called on global leaders to combat NCDs by ratifying the FCTC and scaling up a package of interventions proven effective, including the reduction of tobacco use.

In 2007, at an OIC Health Minsters summit in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia stated its willingness to recognize that tobacco poses one of the greatest threats to health. The country joined an effort to call upon OIC member states to introduce stronger tobacco control legislation.

Diplomats have noted Indonesia’s eagerness to project itself as a leader in international forums, but say the country’s reputation will suffer if, rather than taking action and responsibility on basic agreements, the government is instead seen as merely blowing smoke.

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