Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Govt urged to drop revised cigarette regulation

Muninggar Sri Saraswati, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

A group of 18 non-governmental organizations appealed to the government on Friday to drop a revised government regulation (PP) on cigarettes, which they said was drawn up with a total lack of transparency.

The organizations, grouped under the National Movement on Smoking Control, fear the revision will boost the production of cigarettes, targeted mainly at young people. The World Health Organization (WHO) has named Indonesia the fourth largest cigarette consumer on earth.

"Don't change the regulation just for the sake of commercial interests. Think about the side effects," said Merdias Almatsier, the director of Cipto Mangunkusumo Hospital in Jakarta and the head of a non-governmental organization that campaigns against smoking.

The coalition questioned the drafting of the revised regulation by the Ministry of Health, saying there was an absence of public participation.

"It will be a setback if the government bows to private interests at the expense of the public," Tulus Abadi of the Indonesian Consumers Foundation said.

Cigarette taxes were a major source of revenue for the health ministry's budget last year, accounting for about Rp 22.3 trillion. Cigarette producers have always been among the country's largest taxpayers.

In 1999, the government issued a regulation on smoking that restricted tobacco advertising in the electronic media.

It also restricted the maximum amount of nicotine and tar to 1.5 milligrams and 20 milligrams respectively per cigarette.

Modern cigarette producers had to comply with the requirements within two years. Large companies producing handmade cigarettes were required to meet the regulation within five years and small companies within 10 years.

However, after widespread protests by the cigarette industry, the government issued revised regulation PP No. 38/2000, which lifted the restriction on cigarette advertising in the electronic media.

The regulation also revised the maximum nicotine and tar contents, allowing large clove cigarette producers to meet the requirements within seven years.

Clove cigarettes are the most popular type of cigarettes in the country.

An official at the Ministry of Health confirmed that the ministry had revised the 1999 regulation, although the revision was not approved by then president Abdurrahman Wahid. The official refused to identify who asked for the revision.

According to reports, cigarette consumption in Indonesia reached 200 billion butts in 2000, a figure expected to grow by 5 percent a year. Tobacco consumption in the country between 1990 and 1997 grew by a staggering 44.1 percent a year.