Indonesia: Pictorial warnings not included in tobacco bill

27 June 2016

Activists have raised suspicion of what they called “foul play” in the deliberation of the controversial tobacco bill in the House of Representatives, as the bill contradicts existing regulations that stipulate that cigarette packs must carry pictorial warnings about the dangers of smoking.

Indonesian Corruption Watch (ICW) researcher Emerson Yuntho said Sunday that some provisions in the draft bill were “friendly” to the industry and were potentially being included by lawmakers in order to meet demands from tobacco industry players.

“If we talk about corruption in any legislation process, there must be external parties hoping for a lax regulation that accommodates their interests. Some provisions in the tobacco bill seem to only benefit the industry,” Emerson told a press conference at the Foundation of the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) office in Central Jakarta on Sunday.

Emerson cited Article 35 of the draft bill that does not require cigarette makers to add health pictorial warnings to their labels.

The provision stipulates that cigarette makers must include on their labels explanations of tar and nicotine content, health risks and warnings about selling or giving cigarettes to children aged below 18 and pregnant women, as well as other labels regarding production codes and the date of production — but not that they must carry the pictorial warnings currently required.

The absence of the pictorial warning obligation may weaken lower regulations that oblige cigarette companies to put graphic health warnings on their packages.

Another provision in the article stipulates that “for [clove cigarettes], cigars, tobacco leaves and shredded tobacco, a label that explains tar and nicotine content is not required”.

Emerson said that the current controversy surrounding the tobacco bill resembled what had happened in the deliberation of the 2009 Health Law. At that time, a crucial clause from Article 113 of the Health Law, stipulating that tobacco was an addictive substance, “went missing” several days before the law was endorsed by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

YLBHI legal aid coordinator Julius Ibrani shared Emerson’s doubts, saying that the bill, which became a priority in the 2016 National Legislation Program, had neglected health considerations because it aims to support a 2015 Industry Ministry decree that advocates doubling cigarette production from the 260 billion cigarettes stipulated in a previous decree, to 524.2 billion in 2020.

Anti-tobacco activists have expressed skepticism over the government’s pledge to downscale the prevalence of smoking in the country, as President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s has refused to ratify the UN Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, citing the fate of the millions of people in the industry.

Activists have also expressed concern over how the government could address this issue, focusing on health aspects, should the tobacco bill be passed into law at the plenary meeting on June 28.

Lawmaker Teuku Taufiqulhadi of the United Development Party (PPP) said that the House was still deliberating the bill and that it would take time, until after the Idul Fitri holiday, to conclude the deliberation. “It will not be conveyed in the plenary meeting,” he told The Jakarta Post.

Taufiqulhadi added that the bill was solely focused on protecting tobacco growers, instead of taking a closer look at the health aspects of tobacco consumption. “That is the domain of the Health Ministry,” he said, referring to the absence of pictorial health warnings from the draft bill.