The Draft Tobacco Bill: Going Up in Smoke?

By Dioputra Ilham | 10 Apr 2017
Political | 0 Responses | 1376 Views

Since 2015, the Draft Tobacco Bill (Rancangan Undang-Undang Pertembakauan) has made national news several times. The inconsistent media coverage of the Draft Tobacco Bill since previous years reflects its changing significance to Indonesia. Nevertheless, the Draft Tobacco Bill remains an important issue to Indonesia, a country home to a large tobacco industry and approximately 57 million smokers.

Recently, the Draft Tobacco Bill has sparked further controversies. The problem can be summarized as follows.The Bill entered Indonesia’s National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) in 2014. The People’s Representative Council (DPR) have recently presented an official draft to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for authorization. If the Draft Tobacco Bill is passed, it will bring significant positive and adverse consequences to several aspects, including the tobacco sector, farm workers, and public health. These three aspects underlie the conflicting arguments from many different stakeholders of the bill: the public, the tobacco industry, the DPR, and the government.

Some public interests groups have pressured President Jokowi to reject the Draft Tobacco Bill due to its potentially negative impacts on public health. Article 3(a) of the Draft Tobacco Bill states that one purpose of the management of tobacco is to increase tobacco production. Gerakan Kesehatan Ibu dan Anak (GKIA), a pressure group opposing the Draft Tobacco Bill, argues that this article indicates that the Bill aims to increase the production or manufacturing of cigarettes. Such policy would possibly make it more difficult for the government to control smoking to improve public health.

On the other hand, while the Bill would be detrimental to public health, it may also possibly render positive effects to Indonesia’s tobacco farmers and tobacco industry. Taufiqulhadi, a politician initiating the Draft Tobacco Bill, argues that Indonesia’s tobacco industry only uses 20% of local tobacco, while the remaining 80% are imported. Assuming that these statistics are true, the tobacco industry is thus dominated by imported tobacco, and this condition would be detrimental to local tobacco farms and farmers.

The Draft Tobacco Bill is expected to protect tobacco farmers. Article 1(10) of the draft bill states that controlling tobacco production is an effort to protect the interests and welfare of local tobacco farmers. Several articles of the draft bill also appear to manifest this purpose. Article 10(1) states that the government or local governments should facilitate partnership between farmers and corporations operating in the tobacco industry, and Article 12 states that tobacco distribution should be done by considering the interests of farmers. However, it can be argued that this seemingly “noble” purpose of the Draft Tobacco Bill is redundant with the existence of Act No. 19/2013 on Protection of Farmer Empowerment (Undang-Undang No. 19/2013 tentang Perlindungan Pemberdayaan Petani), which comprehensively protects the interests of farmers.

Thus, there are two main instruments of rules that are being compared in order to assess whether or not a new legislation regulating the tobacco farming industry is necessary: one is the Draft Tobacco Bill itself, and the other is Act No. 19/2013.

According to the Penjelasan RUU of the Draft Tobacco Bill, it aims to visualise that the tobacco industry can serve as a driving force to run the national economy, ultimately leading to national prosperity. The draft bill perceives that smoking traditional cigarettes is the nation’s legacy and has inherently become part of culture. The purpose is to utilize that cultural aspect to promote the tobacco industry into producing more national income through taxes and other forms of government income. For said purposes, the local farmers’ rights are protected. Harvesting local tobacco means less production costs and an increase in sellable goods. Because the objective of this bill is to increase tobacco sales, the cigarette industry too would very much benefit in the case that the draft is adopted as law.

However, health activists claim that an increase of cigarette supply would subsequently result in an increase of domestic cigarette demand as well. This would worsen the current conditions of Indonesia as a country with one of the highest numbers of underaged smokers. These opposing groups further argued that the draft bill is merely a tool to increase national income through tobacco taxation. Though it would benefit the economic conditions of the state, health experts believe that such good does not commensurate the health risks the people are exposed to. Furthermore, they asserted that the interests of the farmers are already fully written in Act. No. 19/2013. To impose the draft bill would be redundant.

The discussion of the necessity of the Draft Tobacco Bill is a long standing argument that does not seem to be ending any time soon. In determining the enactment of this suspended bill, it is crucial to determine its public benefits. Is it really a just a tool to expand the cigarette industry? And if yes, who would benefit from it? The farmers as producers or the people as consumers?

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