Indonesia - the last paradise for a puff in Southeast Asia..

November 13, 2009 - When it comes to smoking, Indonesia remains the last paradise for a puff in Southeast Asia. Those addicted to cigarettes can openly light up in public places without worrying about tough anti-tobacco penalties found in the rest of the region. This reality has been shaped by the power of local and multinational tobacco companies on the archipelago of some 224 million people.

Similar news briefs:
Indonesia - a paradise for tobacco companies.., September 2, 2009;
Indonesia - last paradise to smoke in public places in Southeast Asia.., July 7, 2009.

At the finals for the recent countrywide talent contest, in the former colonial city of Bandung, competing musicians belted out their songs from around 3 p.m till midnight.

For Indonesia's small, yet vocal, anti-tobacco activists, these concerts - billed
to promote local talent - offered more than music to fill their ears. They were
the latest in a string of publicity drives of the powerful multinational tobacco
company Philip Morris International (PMI) in the country.

”A Mild is a product of PMI,” says Dina Kania, policy advocacy coordinator of
the National Commission for Child Protection, a non-governmental
organisation that is part of the country's anti-tobacco movement. ”This has
always been a PMI promotional event since this annual concert series began
in 2007.”

But in other forms of entertainment, the publicity for tobacco companies are
more direct, revealed Kania during a telephone interview from Jakarta. ”There
was a film for teenagers last year where one of the actresses, who is still in
junior high school, was smoking in scenes.”

Such an effort to glamorise smoking goes to extremes, at times. ”There are so
many scenes of people smoking in Indonesian movies where the camera even
zooms in to show the cigarette brand,” adds Kania. ”There is no regulation
like in other countries.”

It is little wonder why a regional anti-tobacco lobby has described Southeast
Asia's largest country as a ”cash cow” for the tobacco industry. ”With 63
percent of its men smoking, Indonesia contributes handsomely towards PMI's
profits - making it its fourth largest market in the world,” states the
Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

”In 2008, PMI owned PT HM Sampoerna became the market leader capturing
30 percent of the cigarette market share,” adds SEATCA. ”The increased
market was obtained through aggressive tobacco advertising and promotions
not matched anywhere else in Asia.”

The wide latitude tobacco companies have to advertise their product on large
billboards across the country has earned Indonesia the dubious distinction of
sharing the same spotlight as Zimbabwe. ”The country is also one of only two
that still allows cigarette advertising,” reports ‘The Jakarta Globe,' an English-
language daily in a recent edition. ”The other is Zimbabwe, which like
Indonesia is one of the largest tobacco exporters in the world.”

Studies by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other groups reveal that the country has some 63 million smokers, with a tenth of students in their teens being smokers. Children as young as 10 years are also among these
smokers, say some reports.

Indonesia's smokers currently account for over 40 percent of Southeast Asia's
125 million smokers. This accounts for a large number of deaths due to
smoking related diseases annually - about 200,000, according to SEATCA.

The prospect of more deaths from this ”smoking epidemic” has still to move
Jakarta, which is still to sign the world's first public health treaty - the WHO
Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)
, which has been in force
since early 2005.

By contrast, this treaty has been signed by Indonesia's nine neighbours in the
region, which include Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The FCTC requires countries to restrict tobacco advertising, sponsorship and
promotion; ensure people are protected from exposure to tobacco smoke;
and have new packaging and labelling policies - including graphic warning
signs about the dangers from smoking.

”Indonesia is the only country in the entire Asia-Pacific region not to sign and
ratify the FCTC,” says Mary Assunta, chair of the Framework Convention
Alliance (FCA), a global network of over 300 anti-tobacco lobby groups
functioning as a watchdog for the FCTC. ”There is no political will. They
haven't even banned minors from buying cigarettes.”

”Indonesia needs to draw lessons from other parts of Southeast Asia,”
Assunta remarked in an interview. ”Once regulations were pushed through by
governments, there has been an immediate impact, like in Singapore,
Thailand and Malaysia.”

The multinational tobacco companies like PMI ”have been successful at
fighting off anti-tobacco legislation,” she added. ”It now has a big stake after
entering the market by buying the Indonesian company PT HM Sampoerna in

The result of this deal saw PMI producing not just its globally known Marlboro
brand but also the new Marlboro Mix 9, a clove-flavoured cigarette, given
how popular such a flavoured smoke is in Indonesia.

For now the prospect of the tobacco lobby's dominance giving way to the
anti-tobacco movement appears remote. The Indonesian legislature is
reluctant to endorse a draft anti-tobacco bill, which has incorporated many
features of the FCTC.

Reference: HEALTH: Tobacco Companies Have a Field Day in Indonesia by Marwaan Macan-Markar, - Wolrd News, 11/13/2009.

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