Indonesia hemmed-in between benefits and hazards of tobacco

Indonesia hemmed-in between benefits and hazards of tobacco

Photo document of cigarette industry in Indonesia. (ANTARA/Andreas Fitri Atmoko)

Tobacco consumption costs 7.5 times more than state income from tobacco excises."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Indonesian government has not yet discussed whether it will ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), as it is still hemmed-in between economic benefits of tobacco and protecting the publics health.

In order to protect the peoples health from the risks of tobacco, the government has launched a campaign banning smoking in public locations. It has also issued Regulation No. 109, 2012 which bans the sale of cigarettes to youths below 18 years old.

But all this has not had a significant impact, reduced the number of smokers or discouraged people from smoking in public. After all, the tobacco industry is a main source of the countrys income. At least 6.1 million people work in cigarette industries or as tobacco farmers.

In 2012 and 2013, for example, the country received at least Rp84 trillion and Rp85 trillion, respectively, in tobacco taxes.

So, from an economic point of view, tobacco is a source of revenue for the state and income for millions of people, which is why the government has not yet ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco.

According to Wikipedia, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) is a treaty adopted by the 56th World Health Assembly on May 21, 2003.It became the first World Health Organization treaty adopted under article 19 of the WHO constitution.

The treaty came into force on February 27, 2005 and was signed by 168 countries. It is legally binding in 177 ratifying countries.

Indonesia, in a plan to ratify the convention, will spark controversies between health supporters and those coming from the tobacco industries and farmers.

Some argued that if all costs for all tobacco-related diseases and other negative impacts of smoking are taken into account, the governments spending would be larger than the amount of the cigarette taxes it is receiving.

When controversies over tobacco use arose three years ago, Chairman of the National Commission for Tobacco Control, Farid Anfasa Moeloek, who was also a former health minister, said smoking has a direct impact on the public's health and on the emergence of social ills, such as drug addiction, alcoholism and violence.

The total cost of treatment of tobacco-related diseases and deaths are higher than the total amount of receipts from tobacco and cigarette taxes.

Farid also spoke of a study conducted in 2004 which revealed that the government spent Rp127 trillion in 2001 on treatment of tobacco-related diseases, while cigarette taxes collected in the same year amounted to only Rp16 trillion.

"Tobacco consumption costs 7.5 times more than state income from tobacco excises," Farid noted.

Despite the argument, however, the Faction of the Nations Awakening Party (FPKB) in the House of Representatives (DPR) rejected the ratification of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, as it would be seen as a disadvantage to many people, since tobacco contributes to the welfare of workers in the tobacco industry.

"Tobacco is a big income source in Indonesia. You can imagine, there are about 6.1 million people working in the tobacco industries. Ratifying the convention will kill them," Muhammad Hanif Dhakiri, the FPKB secretary, said during a discussion at the Parliament building here on Wednesday.

He said that the plan to ratify the FCTC needed to be reviewed, because it would tighten control on the development of tobacco industries at home. Farmers and workers who depend for their livelihood on tobacco, which is the main ingredient in the production of cigarettes, would become unemployed.

"What should be done if, for example, half of the 6.1 million people lost the sources of their income?" Dhakiri asked.

Apart from the benefits arising from the tobacco industries for workers, tobacco industries are also able to survive amid the storm of economic crisis. This is because, according to Dhakiri, almost all raw materials, workers and tobacco production techniques are homemade.

"Just look at that, they are local raw materials, local workers, local production means and local methods in the packing system. The tobacco industry is the only industry which is able to survive the economic crisis," the FPKB secretary said.

Dhakiri also reminded the government of the need for Indonesia to offer priority to its national interest, if it wanted to show its global commitment by ratifying the convention.

He said that if the treaty would harm the national interest, including the interest of local farmers, the convention should be rejected.

On the same occasion, political economic analyst Salamudin Daeng expressed his opinion that the government should reconsider plans to ratify the convention, as the convention regulates a wide scope of issues.

"The FCTC regulates matters directly related to tobacco agriculture, trade, intellectual property rights and other international trade issues," Daeng noted.

Daeng argued that ratification of the convention will run counter to the law on investment, agriculture, trade and intellectual property rights (IPR).

Besides, it is also in opposition to international agreements Indonesia has signed with other countries in the fields of trade and investment.

What is sure, Daeng explained, is that the convention will restrict the development of agriculture and industry, which is why it will burden the countrys economic players and people, while benefiting foreign capitalists who will eye tobacco and cigarette markets in Indonesia.

"The ratification of the convention can directly ruin the countrys tobacco agriculture and harm the existence of small and medium scale business in the cigarette industries. As a result, it will trigger the growth of an increasing number of poor people and hamper efforts to achieve the development goals," Daeng explained.

Actually, the Indonesian government has not yet discussed a serious plan to ratify the convention.

Earlier, the tobacco control convention issue sparked reactions from the public, entrepreneurs and farmers associations over the advantages and disadvantages of restricting tobacco.

Indonesia is one of the countries that has not yet ratified the convention because tobacco concerns the fate of millions of farmers, though the government is also considering the health of the public.

"It has not yet been discussed specifically," Presidential Special Staff for Economic Affairs Firmanzah said here on Wednesday.

Further, President Susilo Bamban Yudhoyono has not yet reviewed significant matters relating to the ratification of the convention on tobacco controls in Indonesia, he added.

He said that the President would discuss the issue once the government has made a decision with regards to the Framework Convention of Tobacco Control issue. (*)