The government denied reports on Wednesday that it would cancel a tobacco draft after thousands of tobacco farmers came to protest against it in the capital
Several media and television stations had reported that the demonstrators, who have been staging rallies at government offices since Tuesday, agreed to disperse after a ministry official agreed to scrap the draft of the tobacco impact control regulation, scheduled to be passed on July 14.
“There is no cancelation or postponement of the passing of the regulation,” Emil Agustiono, deputy to the coordinating minister for people’s welfare, said after meeting with 15 representatives for the tobacco farmers on Wednesday.
“What I said was, I had to report the meeting results with the coordinating minister for people’s welfare first.”
About 7,000 farmers and employees from cigarette manufacturers have been demonstrating against the draft in front of the Health Ministry and the Justice and Human Rights Ministry.
“Frankly, I feel sorry for them because they came from far away,” Emil said.
“Some even sold their goats to take part in the demonstration.
“But they don’t understand that the draft is not targeting them. The farmers are not banned from growing tobacco.”
The regulation will require cigarette packs to feature a graphic warning on their covers. It will also require companies to limit tobacco advertising and regulate smoking sections in buildings.
Emil said that the protesters, from the Tobacco Farmers Alliance (APTI) and the National Coalition of Clove Cigarette Saviors (KNPK), should have expressed their objections when the Health Ministry first drafted the regulation.
“The job of the coordinating ministry of people’s welfare is only to synergize [the draft] with all related ministries,” he said.
He said the government had met with another group, the Indonesian Tobacco Alliance (Amti), to discuss its reasons for drafting the regulation. “Now organizations that seemed to have formed only recently are suddenly emerging,” he said.
Although the government insisted the regulation would not ban smoking or tobacco farming, Amin Subarkah, chairman of the East Java APTI branch, insisted it would destroy the livelihood of farmers.
“There is a symbiosis between tobacco farmers and the cigarette industry, and you can’t cut it in the middle,” he said.
He said that if the regulation was passed, it would disrupt the cigarette industry and hurt the farmers’ sales.
Emil reiterated that the government would not cancel or postpone the regulation but said it was open to dialogue.
“If only they read the draft and understood the substance, I’m sure [the protests] wouldn’t happen,” he said.
Amin said his association would send a petition to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to demand the draft be scrapped.
“We will try to negotiate, but if we fail we will send a letter of protest, like a petition, to the president,” he said.