The tobacco industry continues to impede the tobacco control movement in Indonesia through the legislative process. After succeeding to prioritise the tobacco bill on the list of bills to be passed this year, the House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat/DPR) proposed two articles regarding kretek (traditional cigarettes made with a blend of tobacco and cloves) into the bill on culture. According to the articles, kretek will be protected as cultural heritage.
Article 37 of the bill on culture mentions kretek as one type of tangible culture that should be recognised and protected as historical and cultural heritage. Moreover, article 49 outlines the government’s responsibilities of kretek culture, which are to make an inventory and to document, to facilitate the development, and to promote kretek. Despite the controversial issues of the tobacco industry in Indonesia, the House’s Legislative Council has kept on track in including those clauses into the draft law.
The Legislative Council’s Vice Chairman, Firman Soebagyo, admitted that he proposed “kretek articles” since he concerned for local tobacco farmers. The farmers, Firman said, often lose money due to the presence of imported tobacco. On the contrary, senior economist Emil Salim argued that categorising kretek as cultural heritage could devastate Indonesia’s young generation, as the government would be promoting tobacco consumption.
The bill on culture is currently being prepared by the House’s committee of education and culture. However, it is not officially agreed as a House’s initiative bill. The Minister of Education and Culture, Anies Baswedan, has said that the government would reject the draft law if such clauses regarding kretek remain included in the bill.
The Constitutional Court annulled the Local Election Law’s provision that prohibits incumbent’s relatives to run into regional head candidacy. The Court decided unconstitutional the provision as it violating the political rights of citizens.
Article 7 section r of the Local Election Law states that Indonesian citizens who have a conflict of interest with the incumbent cannot enter the race as a candidate of governor, mayor, or regent in a local election. Elucidation of this article defines “conflict of interest” as “having filiation, bond of marriage and/or lineage with incumbent”. A number of prospective head regions then filed a judicial review case over the Local Election Law to the Constitutional Court.
In the decision that accepted the petition, the panel of constitutional judges considered the provision have discriminates citizens who wish to participate in the democratic process, solely because of birth status and kinship with the incumbent. Bivitri Susanti from the Indonesian Centre for Law and Policy Studies (PSHK) agreed with the court ruling as it gives the same treatment to the prospective head region. Bivitri argued, although political dynasty gives negative impacts to the people, the solution to the problem should not violate the political rights of citizens who intend to run in the elections.
On the other hand, some commentators and activists assumed the court decision would preserve the bad practice of political dynasty. Former Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court Jimly Asshiddiqie criticised the decision as a setback and a form of legalisation of political dynasty. Jimly believed that, the state should impose some restrictions through legislation to prevent the negative impacts of political dynasty as the Indonesian political culture is still influenced by feudalism.
A number of head of regions in Indonesia do have members of their family who has important positions in local government, either as regional officials or member of local parliament. Moreover, there are also incumbents’ relatives who are intended to replace the incumbent’s positions by running for parliamentary office. In Indonesia, the incumbent officials often using influence and position to give advantage to their relatives who take part as candidates in local elections. In some local elections, the candidates who have family relationships with the incumbents have won the election despite not having adequate capacity as head of the region.
In 2010, a video of a smoking toddler in Indonesia went viral, showing the extent of unhealthy addiction to cigarettes that the country has.
Five years after the shocking video surfaced, Indonesia is still behind in tobacco control and seems to be regressing. Indonesia is the only country in the Asia Pacific that has yet to ratify the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The Indonesian parliament, intent on pushing tobacco industry interests, is deliberating a bill that will obstruct tobacco control efforts in Indonesia.
Indonesians smoke 300 billion cigarettes in a year. Only China and India exceed this number. A survey conducted in low-income populations showed that cigarettes comes second after the staple food rice on the list of household monthly consumption.
Indonesia has tried to set up regulations for tobacco control by introducing a Tobacco Control Bill in 2010, the year the toddler smoking video went viral, as priority legislation. Yet neither the parliament nor the government has discussed the bill to this day.
Instead, in February the parliament has included in this year’s list of priority bills new draft legislation on tobacco. This bill is completely different from the 2010 Tobacco Control Bill.
The provisions are dominated by legal arrangements regarding tobacco production and the tobacco industry. Although it includes a minor provision on the protection of public health from the negative impacts of tobacco, the structure of this bill shows that health issues are not the core of the bill.
Article 3 of the bill mentions five objectives of tobacco management. The first four objective are to increase tobacco production, improve community welfare, develop the national tobacco industry and to increase state revenues. Public health protection purposes is mentioned only last.
Industry over public health
Enacting legislation that prioritises tobacco management issues will only favour tobacco industry interests. It also gives unnecessary special treatment to tobacco farming compared to other agricultural plants.
Whenever there are efforts at tobacco control in Indonesia, the industry pits public health concerns against the welfare of tobacco farmers. Because smoking is so ubiquitous in Indonesia, there is a perception that tobacco control would jeopardise Indonesia’s tobacco farmers.
But Indonesia actually imports more tobacco than it exports to meet local demands for cigarettes. In 2011 Indonesia imported US$507 million worth of tobacco and exported tobacco worth US$146 million.
Indonesia does not need a dedicated bill for tobacco. Compared to other agricultural plants, tobacco plantations are not spread out in Indonesia’s 34 provinces. They are concentrated in only East and West Java, as well as West Nusa Tenggara.
Rice, in contrast, is evenly distributed throughout Java and other islands, with a total production of more than 70 million tonnes in 2013.
Forget the Tobacco Bill, adopt the FCTC
The Indonesian government should scrap the Tobacco Bill. The substance of the bill is not in line with the government’s efforts in protecting public health.
Indonesia has a 2009 Health Law that classifies tobacco as an addictive substance of which the production, distribution and use needs to be controlled. In 2012, Indonesia enacted a government regulation to control the health impact of tobacco products. This regulation, among other things, requires cigarette manufacturers to include pictorial health warnings on 40% of the space on every tobacco product’s packaging.
The government should accede to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and ratify it into national law.
If Indonesia continues to delay FCTC accession, the country will become a dumping ground for cigarette industries as more and more countries become parties to the FCTC. Even China, the world’s largest tobacco producer, has ratified the FCTC.
As Indonesia has rolled out its health-care system, in the long term the government will have to deal with the high health costs of smoking.
President Joko Widodo can improve his declining popularity by scrapping the tobacco bill and ratifying the FCTC. More importantly, this move will save future generations of Indonesians from the grip of tobacco industries.