The government expects to finish by the end of this year a new set of smoking regulations designed to bring Indonesia closer to ratifying an international convention on tobacco control.
At the center of the debate are rules concerning advertising and mandatory picture warnings on cigarette packaging.
Although last year Indonesia signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states the dangers of tobacco and sets limits for its use, the country remains the only one in Southeast Asia and one of the last in the world that has not ratified it.
The government is contemplating how best to meet the six requirements required under the FCTC. These concern cigarette duties, advertising, picture warnings, smoking-free areas, anti-cigarette campaigning and anti-cigarette education.
“The regulation has for a year been discussed between ministries and related sectors, including the tobacco industry and the cigarette companies,” Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih said after meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the National Commission on Tobacco Control (KNPT) at the presidential palace on Monday.
“It has been decided that the draft should be issued as a regulation soon. The target is this year.”
Among the six components, Endang said the picture warning on cigarette packaging was the most difficult thing on which to reach agreement.
However, she claimed that cigarette executives said they would comply with the picture warnings if the regulation makes it mandatory.
The Health Ministry, Endang said, will cooperate with anti-tobacco groups to promote awareness as the government mulls a partial ban on cigarette advertisements.
Endang said that Yudhoyono had asked her ministry to educate the public, including children, about the dangers of smoking. Any change to the rules would be gradual, she added. “Regarding the ratification, the president said that it would be done in phases, rather than all at once,” Endang said. Farid Moeloek, the tobacco commission chairman, said he hoped the House of Representatives would soon deliberate the regulation, which has drawn sharp criticism from tobacco farmers. Cigarettes have long been a controversial issue in Indonesia. Earlier this year, a study by the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease found the country had become home to the third-largest population of cigarette consumers in the world. Indonesia has some of the lowest tobacco tax rates and the cheapest tobacco products in the world, and the number of smokers in the country has steadily increased. Some 65 million Indonesians smoke, with 40 percent of them illiterate and 60 percent poor. In the last decade, the rate of smoking among 10-to-14-year-olds has grown from 9.5 percent to 17.5 percent.
The government has been reluctant to impose strict controls on tobacco. The industry generates significant tax revenue, and it is one of the nation’s major employers. Despite that, however, Moeloek said the Indonesian people would benefit in the long run from increased regulation. The KNPT chairman said Indonesians spent a total of Rp 138 trillion ($15.2 billion) a year buying cigarettes. The nation also spends Rp 2 trillion a year treating smoking-related illnesses. He said smoking was responsible for Rp 105 trillion in lost productivity annually. The tobacco industry generates Rp 60 trillion a year in taxes and duties. Anti-tobacco activists have warned that the regulation that would require tobacco companies to place graphic warnings on cigarette packs could face an untimely death because of the government’s insistence that all stakeholders, including the tobacco industry, have wide-ranging input wanted. “If we keep letting people challenge this regulation, there is no way we can finish it this year,” said Kartono Muhammad, a prominent anti-tobacco activist.