Activists expressed hope on Sunday that the advertising restrictions on tobacco and formula milk that they had long been fighting for would finally become reality after the health minister said such regulations were being drafted.
If issued, the regulations would have widespread implications, not only on the tobacco and formula-milk industries, but also on the media, which would lose a large chunk of its revenue from the major advertisers.
Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih made the announcement on Friday at an event on strategies to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals at Padjadjaran University in Bandung.
She said regulations were being drafted to impose a complete ban on all forms of tobacco advertising as well as on formula milk aimed at infants under the age of 12 months.
For tobacco, she also said she hoped the draft would be “all-clear” by the end of this year.
“It must be understood there are a lot of interests at stake,” she said. “That’s why we need to proceed wisely in drafting this regulation. What’s important is that we’re consistent and we make progress step by step.”
The “interests” the minister was referring to were the nation’s tobacco companies, which last year produced 245 billion cigarettes.
Industry lobbyists often cite the negative impact on tobacco farmers as an argument against restrictions on the industry.
Hakim Sorimuda Pohan, a former lawmaker who now works with the Coalition Against Corruption of the Anti-Tobacco Clause (Kakar), said “the cigarette industry will soon become a sunset industry” if Endang made good on her word.
Yos Ginting, the director of corporate affairs for Sampoerna, said he hoped the ban would be implemented gradually and that “advertisements in distribution areas would still be allowed.”
The formula-milk ad ban, on the other hand, was needed because “the number of mothers feeding their babies exclusively with breast milk is still low, because they prefer to give them formula milk,” Endang said.
As part of the ban, milk producers would no longer be allowed to sponsor or work in partnership with health authorities, including hospitals, clinics and individual doctors.
“We’re now drafting the regulation on the ban,” she said. “It will probably be finished quicker than the regulation on tobacco, which requires more discussion, but we’ll try to get both of them done by next year.”
Advocates have been saying that increasing breast-feeding rates in Indonesia would help reduce infant mortality rates, as targeted in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
Health Ministry data show that less than 60 percent of Indonesian women fed their babies an exclusive diet of breast milk within the first six months after giving birth.
“[The ban] will be good as advertisements on formula milk are encouraging mothers to stop breast feeding,” said Prijo Sidipratomo, the chairman of Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI).
But Ricky Pesik, from the Jakarta chapter of the Indonesian Association of Advertising Agencies (PPPI) said the regulations could squash media revenue.
“Tobacco companies are among the five biggest advertisers in media over the years, notably in television,” he said.
Hakim said the tobacco companies’ lobbyists were aware that their room to operate was getting smaller as other countries with large populations were becoming stricter in their antismoking drives.
“Indonesia as the world’s fourth-most populous country, and its persuadable government officials are [lobbyists’] last hope,” Hakim said.
“Hopefully the health minister can keep her promises,” he said.