Indonesian Activists Demand Officials Move Forward With New Tobacco Rules

By webadmin on 11:19 am Nov 03, 2011
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Dessy Sagita

With the Health Law now legally in force, antismoking activists are pushing for the government to issue the necessary regulations to bring a contentious clause on tobacco into force.

“Thank God, the Constitutional Court judges still have a conscience,” said Hakim Sorimuda Pohan, an antitobacco activist and former lawmaker. “With the tobacco clause now strengthened, the government no longer has a reason to delay the implementing regulations.”

An implementing regulation on tobacco should have been issued in 2010, a year after the passage of the 2009 Health Law, but has run into repeated delays. Both supporters and opponents of the clause filed for judicial reviews with the Constitutional Court.

“There should no longer be any debates over trivialities as the law is legally binding,” Hakim said.

Among the main points of contention was the size of the image depicting a tobacco-related disease that would be put on the side of cigarette packs.

Under the Health Law, cigarette producers and importers must place pictorial warnings on packs or face a fine of up to Rp 500 million ($58,000).

The Health Ministry proposed in a draft regulation that the warnings should cover at least 50 percent of the surface area of each cigarette pack.

However, the tobacco industry wanted to shrink the images to 30 percent of the pack, or simply not have them at all.

According to activists, the government had pointed to the Constitutional Court and the unresolved request for a judicial review as one of the reasons the regulation was delayed.

Tulus Abadi, managing director of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI), said in August that his group would push the government to implement the regulation as drafted by the ministry.

“Written warnings are not effective,” he said. “We need something stronger to convince people that smoking is deadly. We will do whatever it takes to make sure the pictures will not get smaller or be deleted, and we will fight for this regulation to be issued immediately because it is already nearly two years late.”

Kartono Muhammad, an antitobacco activist and former chairman of the Indonesian Doctors Association (IDI), dismissed the argument that the court decision would benefit foreign interests.

“If they say the verdict will kill local products and smooth the way for imports, that is nonsense,” he said,.

He said imported cigarettes had long been here and that if local producers, especially small-scale ones, had to close down it was not because of regulations but because they could not compete.

Hakim said the issue was not about local or foreign production.

“It is now time for us to stop promoting and selling poison. It has nothing to do with foreigners,” he said.

The government has shown a reluctance to impose strict controls on tobacco, an industry that generates significant tax revenue and is one of the nation’s major employers.