Indonesia: World Cup Deja vu by DR. M. Assunta

Gigantic billboards appeared on the streets of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, in May, showing the “Big Five” (wild animals) of South Africa playing football, connecting people all over Indonesia to the World Cup. The only problem was, the billboards were advertisements for a local tobacco company, Djarum.

Like many other countries, soccer is Indonesia’s No. 1 sport and Gudang Garam, the second largest tobacco company in Indonesia, was sponsoring the telecast of the FIFA World Cup this time round. For the record, FIFA has not accepted tobacco sponsorship since 1988. For the 2002 World Cup, it even signed a memorandum of understanding with the WHO and declared that particular tournament a Tobacco Free World Cup, kicking it off on World No Tobacco Day (31 May). However, when it comes to tobacco sponsorship of telecast of the games at the national level, FIFA tends to take a hands-off stance.

In 2002, despite the World Cup being Tobacco Free, its telecast to Malaysia was sponsored by Dunhill, one of the best known brands of British American Tobacco. Although health advocates mounted an international protest against the tobacco sponsorship and made appeals to FIFA on the grounds that telecast of a tobacco free World Cup could not be sponsored by a tobacco company, FIFA washed its hands of the issue.

Now, eight years down the track, it is déja vu in Indonesia. FIFA made no effort to tighten conditions on the way its name is being associated with tobacco companies. And as before, when Indonesian and international advocates registered a protest with FIFA, urging it to look into the matter, FIFA made no response.

Indonesia remains among the most serious cases of the small minority countries refusing to ban tobacco advertising. Moreover, it is probably the only country in the world this year where its young and old will have watched the world’s biggest soccer event sponsored by a tobacco company. Sadly, most don’t even know that such a sponsorship is prohibited in most other countries, including Indonesia’s neighbours.

In May, many people around the world were horrified to watch a video clip of two year-old toddler puffing on a cigarette and going through 40 sticks a day. But the horror of the very young smoking in Indonesia is yet to touch the hearts of legislators.

Last year, the National Commission for Child Protection, an Indonesian non-governmental organisation, filed a judicial review in the Constitutional Court to ban tobacco promotion on television. Unfortunately, the government defended its position to allow tobacco companies the right to advertise on television and this position was upheld by the court.

More than 90 per cent of Indonesian children are exposed to television advertisements for tobacco. Although cigarette advertisements are not allowed to be screened before 9.30 pm, tobacco sponsored events such as sports are broadcast in the early evening. According to the Department of Health FDA figures, over 60 per cent of tobacco advertisements violate the restrictions. No action is taken for these violations.

Indonesia is the only country in Asia that has not ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The sooner Indonesia realises the need to protect its people’s health, the earlier it can halt the tobacco epidemic which claims more than 200 000 lives every year. But the horror of the very young smoking in Indonesia is yet to touch the hearts of legislators and translate into bans on tobacco advertising and promotions.

MARY ASSUNTA, Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance – SEATCA,

full text and photos found here:

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