INDONESIA: Higher taxes ‘not enough’ to curb smoking habit growth, 03/12/11

The recent increase of tobacco taxes is not enough to solve the country’s pervasive addiction to cigarettes, activists say.

National Commission for Child Protection chairman Arist Merdeka Sirait said that there were no effective ways to curtail consumption of cigarettes besides banning advertisements, which were attracting young people to be “future loyal consumers”.
“Cigarette ads are mostly performed by young actors to reach out to young consumers. You will never see a cigarette ad presented with old and unattractive actresses or actors,” he said, adding that cigarette companies were preparing young people to be addicted customers by introducing smoking to young kids.
To curb consumption and health problems, the government will increase the tobacco excise by 15 percent starting on Jan. 1.
The new policy obliges cigarette manufacturers to pay between Rp 74.75 (83 US cents) and Rp 358.8. The original tax ranged between Rp 65 and Rp 312 per cigarette.
Tulus Abadi, who chairs the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI), said that Indonesia’s tobacco excise, which amounted to 37 percent of the average price of cigarettes, was much less than the 58 percent rate imposed throughout the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.
“This is why cigarettes are affordable here,” he said.
2007 and 2010 Basic Health Research (Riskesdas) recorded an increase of smoking habits among Indonesian children and teenagers.
According to the 2007 report, only 1.2 percent of children aged between 5 and 9 years old smoked, but the figure grew to 1.7 percent in 2010.
The reports also note that smoking has risen to 17.5 percent among children of between 10 and 14 years old, up from 10.3 percent, and to 43.3 percent among teenagers between 15 and 19 years old, up from 33.1 percent.
“The increasing number of young smokers in the country shows that cigarette ads have successfully spoken to our young generation, as 99.7 percent of them are exposed to such ads in TV, 87 percent to ads displayed outdoors such as billboards and 76.2 percent to ads in printed media,” Arist said.
The National Commission for Tobacco Control notes that the number of smokers in Indonesia has reached 80 million people in 2010, which is in the third position of the global epidemic level after China and India.
University of Indonesia Demographic Institute researchers Abdillah Ahsan added that affordable cigarette prices were another reason for the “failure” of tobacco taxes in reducing smoking habits in the country.
“Cigarettes cost less than candy here. The price of a hand-made clove cigarette is Rp 234, which totals Rp 2,808 a dozen. This price is similar to a packet of candy that costs Rp 2,000,” he said.
According to Abdillah, the government must impose as high a tobacco tax rate as possible to limit smokers’ purchasing power, as a study conducted by his institute shows that poor Indonesian families spend proportionately more on cigarettes.
He added that poor families’ spending on cigarettes was six times their spending on education and nine times what they spent on daily food consumption. (msa)

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