Two years into drafting the 2009 Health Law’s implementing regulations, the Health Ministry announced on Friday that the expected blanket ban on cigarette advertisements and sponsorships could not go forward.
“Initially, we wanted to impose a total ban on cigarette ads and sponsorships, but after considering the importance of many sectors we decided not to do that, we will only control it,” said Budi Sampurna, head of the legal bureau at the Ministry of Health.
Budi said the planned ban was hampered by two existing laws on the press and broadcasting, which allowed advertising as long as cigarettes or their packaging were not shown on television.
He added that the passage of another law on controlling tobacco, currently being drafted, could overrule the existing laws, and allow a total ban to be implemented in the future.
The Health Law had been seen as a victory by activists as it classified tobacco as an addictive substance, which meant its traffic had to be controlled by the government.
But activists have been disappointed over and over again, first over the delay in the release of the implementing regulations, and then in February’s announcement that a total ban would only be imposed in stages.
Budi said the government had yet to finalize exactly how ads would be limited, but stressed the state would do its best to prevent them from being viewed by young people.
“We realize it will not be 100 percent effective in reducing the number of smokers but let’s see it as a brake, we are slowing down the increase in new smokers,” he said. The government, he added, would also urge regional administrations to create more smoke-free areas and limit billboards promoting cigarettes.
Activists were not placated. “Honestly I’m not convinced by the government’s claim that they will limit the number of ads,” said Fuad Baradja, head of public education at the Indonesian Smoking Control Foundation (LM3).
“The most ideal policy to fight tobacco addiction is the FCTC, if the government insists on not ratifying the framework, they should at least issue a regulation that is on the same track,” he said, referring to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.
Indonesia is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that has not ratified the convention, which requires its members to ban all tobacco advertising, including sponsorship and promotion, and impose no-smoking zones.
Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection (Komnas Anak) said the government’s decision contradicted the Health Law.
“The law clearly states tobacco as an addictive substance and clearly addictive substances should not be advertised,” he said. “The government should ask themselves, what do they care about more, income or the future or our children?”