Activists: Jokowi, Kalla bowing to tobacco interests

Anti-tobacco campaigners have expressed their disappointment with the performance of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla in stemming cigarette consumption, claiming the government had caved in to the interests of the powerful cigarette industry.

Ifdhal Kasim from the National Coalition of Civil Society for Tobacco Control said the government's subordination to the industry reflected in the revision of the Industry Ministry's roadmap for the tobacco industry, which targeted an increase of cigarette production by 5 - 7.4 per cent per year.

"This roadmap will trigger an increase in consumption to 524 billion cigarettes by 2020, which is not in line with long-term plans announced by the government," he said on Tuesday.

According to Ifdhal, the long-term development plan (RPJP) stipulated that government policy should always consider the social health impacts; therefore the revision of the roadmap contradicted the long-term development plan.

He said the government's failure to control cigarette consumption was also seen in investment by global cigarette company Philip Morris, which had been welcomed by the government.

Such investment, he said, had triggered the change in policy regarding cigarette control and would also increase tobacco imports from supplying countries like China, India and Thailand. "Indonesia is a sexy market for tobacco-producing countries and the heaven of the cigarette industry, because it is so easy to market cigarettes in Indonesia," Ifdhal said.

Meanwhile, Hery Chariansyah, director of NGO Raya Indonesia, slammed the government for failing to curb the progress of the tobacco industry in Indonesia in 2015.

"The government appears not to be protecting the public's health against the negative impact of cigarettes. The Jokowi-Kalla administration also seemed to have deviated far from the development principles promised in their election campaign," said Hery.

The tobacco bill, scheduled to be deliberated at the House of Representatives next year according to the national legislation programme, also indicated the government's powerlessness in keeping tobacco industry interests out of the bill, according to Hery.

Ifdhal, however, still expressed hope that the government may carry out significant steps next year to reduce cigarette consumption.

"One of the ways to control tobacco consumption is by ratifying the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). FCTC is the technical instrument which will help Indonesia control cigarette consumption," he said.

Hery agreed with Ifdhal, saying that "two-thirds of Indonesians between the age of 9 and 15 are smokers. This condition will lead to a demographic disaster. People of the productive age are prone to various kinds of sicknesses because of cigarettes. The government has to stop selling its people to the cigarette companies."