Plan for US kretek Ban Sparks Diplomatic ire

Plan for US Kretek Ban Sparks Diplomatic Ire – Jakarta Globe
May 22, 2009

The United States Senate is currently debating a ban on Indonesian clove cigarettes because of the argument that the sweet flavor of the local kretek entice s teenagers and children to begin smoking.

The clove additive, along with sweeteners like chocolate and cherry, is seen by health advocates as a way for tobacco companies to lure young people with “trainer cigarettes” into a lifelong addiction that can result in cancer and heart disease in later life.

The measure has drawn fire from Indonesian authorities who say that it is discriminatory. Jakarta’s ambassador to Washington, Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, has threatened to take the matter to the World Trade Organization if the ban becomes law.

But this is not, fundamentally, a trade issue and Indonesia should see the potential ban as a blessing in disguise that could force the country to come to terms with its longstanding addiction to the power of local tobacco companies and the high rate of addiction to cigarettes here.

Predictably, officials have come forward to say they are worried about the amount of money that tobacco farmers could stand to lose from such a ban. But the overall amounts involved — less than $200 million in exports to the US market — are small, according to press reports. Trade Minister Mari Pangestu was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that “it’s the principle” of the ban that concerns her and may compel a move under WTO rules.

But instead of fighting this quite sensible public health measure, the government should use this as an opportunity to seek out alternative crops for tobacco farmers, who receive a pittance out of the vast profits made by cigarette companies in Indonesia. That would be a move with real benefits for the rural sector.

Importantly, this latest measure is in line with growing international opposition to big tobacco. The United States — and many other countries — are finally confronting, albeit imperfectly, the insidious power of an industry , whose products literally kill tens of millions of people a year. Bans on smoking in public places, tough restrictions on cigarette advertising and other measures with real teeth are a fact of life in many countries.

Here, they are seldom considered and, even if put in place, seldom enforced. But what would happen if any other widely available consumer product was found to be addictive with deadly side effects? Why do we give tobacco a free ride in Indonesia?

The proposed kretek ban should not be seen as a nationalist issue or a trade dispute. The evidence on this issue is clear. The global trend is for countries to confront the hazards of smoking, especially as they relate to children. If Indonesian cloves are helping to hook a new generation of youngsters to this deadly vice regardless of where they live, then we should welcome efforts to stop the practice.

This is a chance for our government to show both wisdom and courage by cooperating with Washington to ban kretek exports, while also getting serious about reducing tobacco addiction at home.

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