Do industry tentacles dictate tobacco control?

Having served as the butter and bread for millions of poor Indonesians in rural areas, the tobacco and cigarette industry has seemingly utilized its political clout well in allegedly undermining efforts to introduce full-fledged tobacco control policies. The Jakarta Post’s Hans David Tampubolon gained a fellowship from the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) to report on the issue:

Almost a year ago, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s failure to favorably consider and appoint senior physician Nila Djuwita Anfasha Moeloek as health minister triggered public bewilderment.

While the Presidential Palace insisted this was due to Nila’s failure to pass a psychological examination, the controversy surrounding the incident grew.

Health activists accused the multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry of playing a role in quashing Nila’s appointment over concerns that her husband’s advocacy of tobacco control might undermine the industry.

Nila’s husband, Farid Anfasa Moeloek, was the health minister under former president Baharuddin Jusuf Habibie.

Both Nila and the Presidential Palace denied the allegations.

However, with several regulations on tobacco control shelved for years, there is now growing suspicion that the industry’s tentacles have a firm grip on policymakers.

A bill on tobacco control in response to the government’s signing of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), and a government regulation on tobacco control as mandated by the 2009 Health Law have so far remained on the backburner, thanks to the Health Ministry, which is supposed to spearhead their passage.

The tobacco control bill has been under intense deliberation since 2008, but was killed off in September last year.

Democratic Party politician and former legislator Hakim Sorimuda Pohan said he believed it was obvious the regulations were shelved as the industry’s reach into the country’s political sphere was ubiquitous.

“It’s no longer a rare phenomenon for the industry to play a major role in politics, and around policymakers,” Hakim said.

In 2005, a cigarette tycoon in his Rolls Royce paid regular visits to Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace. Surprisingly, the rare car was parked in public view.

“The visits were common knowledge,” said Hakim, whose party was founded by Yudhoyono.

Yudhoyono’s youngest son Edhie Baskoro, the Democratic Party secretary-general, also has an office inside a building owned by the cigarette tycoon.

Edhie refused to comment on this or on his business affairs.

But the industry lobby goes deeper than this, given the huge amounts of money at stake and the number of workers in the business.

The country’s cigarette companies had a combined revenue last year of more than Rp 85 trillion (US$9.4 billion), and employ more than 600,000 workers directly and 10 million indirectly.

With a seemingly endless amount of cash in hand, it may seem obvious that many policymakers are lured into the industry’s tentacles.

In early 1992, documents showing correspondence between executives of a European tobacco giant with its Indonesian counterpart were revealed to the public.

The documents revealed explicitly how the company managed to lobby Indonesian ministers and legislators to not include tobacco as an addictive substance in regulations and laws.

“What happened back then illustrates how the industry already had a major influence among government officials and legislators,” Hakim said.

Last year’s incident over the disappearance of several articles related to tobacco control in the newly passed health law also served to breed suspicion over the industry’s clout in directing policy. The legislators involved were allegedly rewarded with kickbacks from the industry.

On the evening of Sept. 11 last year, a meeting was held at the House of Representatives’ Commission IX between legislators Ribka Tjiptaning of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), Asiah Salekan and Mariani Baramuli of the Golkar Party, and Faiq Bahfen, the Health Ministry’s inspector general.

Commission IX oversees health and social affairs.

Ribka, the commission’s chairwoman at the time, said the meeting was called following a request from Faiq, who suggested that several articles mentioning tobacco as an addictive substance should be secretly omitted from the master copy of the health law.

Faiq, Ribka said, insisted on the omission because the articles could strongly affect the livelihood of tobacco farmers and trigger massive protests.

Faiq, whose main task at the ministry was to supervise internal use of the state budget, wrote his suggestion by hand on a piece of paper handed over to legislators.

The legislators, however, claimed they would not comply with Faiq’s request unless fellow legislator Umar Wahid, the committee chairman for the health bill deliberation, joined the club.

Umar, a National Awakening Party (PKB) legislator, refused to join the meeting as he was away on a trip outside the city.

However, the three legislators then took a chance by striking a deal with Faiq without Umar.

With their signatures as a token of approval, Faiq then filed a report to the House’s legal affairs bureau to make the omissions in the master copy before it was submitted to the House’s plenary session and the State Secretariat, Adrian, the head of the House’s legal affairs bureau, said.

However, when Umar found out about the missing articles, he contacted Ribka to undo them, but his attempt was too late.

Adrian claimed to have received no instruction from Faiq or Ribka to undo the omission. “They probably forgot to tell us to undo the deletion because both the Health Ministry and Commission IX were occupied in deliberating other bills.”

A commission official speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was widespread speculation at the time that legislators received Rp 300 billion (US$33 million) for making the omissions.

Ribka, Asiah and Mariani denied the allegations at a press conference earlier this month, while Faiq refused to reply to a text message requesting clarification.

Ribka claimed the omission was an unintentional technical glitch.

However, Hakim, who was involved in deliberating the health bill, says he believed otherwise.

“The police have a valid document showing a written instruction to delete the articles. If the mistake was unintentional, such document could not exist,” Hakim said.

Anti-tobacco activists spotted the omission a month after the bill was passed, and reported the case to the police. However, the police dropped its investigation Tuesday, citing a lack of evidence.

But questions remain whether the tobacco and cigarette industry had a hand in influencing the course of the health law.

Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association (APTI) chairman Wisnu Brata confirmed there was an attempt to lobby legislators to remove the controversial clauses from the health law.

“Yes, we did send a letter to the House [to remove the clause]. I don’t see anything wrong with that. We have the same rights as other Indonesians in voicing concerns over something that may affect our interests and livelihoods,” he said.

Wisnu added that the livelihoods of 2.5 million tobacco farmers depended on the content of the health law.

He said the association held direct hearings with legislators during the deliberation of the bill to promote their interests, but did not make any attempts to bribe them.

“We are only farmers. We don’t have the resources to bribe them,” he said. Wisnu also denied ever knowing Faiq.

Indonesian Cigarette Producers Association (Gappri) chairman Ismanu Soemiran refused to comment on the story.

However, in an interview in May last year, he denied any attempts were made to bribe legislators and government officials to benefit the industry.

“Do legislators have any evidence that we’re financing farmers to stage protests in opposition to the bill, or to lobby legislators?” he said.

Health Ministry secretary-general Ratna Rosita also denied allegations that the ministry was not serious in pushing for the passage of tobacco control regulations.

She also down played any internal investigation into Faiq, who is now retiring.

“The [master] copy of the health law that we obtained was the complete version without any missing articles. So we are not to blame.”

Key issues in tobacco control bill and government regulation on tobacco control

1. Prohibiting children from selling or purchasing cigarettes

2. Setting up no-smoking areas

3. Limiting cigarette advertising, promotions and endorsements

4. Sentences of up to five years in prison and/or Rp 1 billion in fines for violators

5. Quota on cigarette production

6. Cap on the number of cigarette companies

Industry profile:

According to the latest data from the National Commission for Tobacco Control, 65 million people consume cigarettes in Indonesia, with the largest segment of smokers between the ages of 15 and 19. Of the total number of smokers 65 percent are men, and 80 percent of smokers use clove-flavored cigarette, or kreteks.

The commission also said that 70 percent of smokers in Indonesia were from low- to middle-income backgrounds.

With 3,800 cigarette companies, including home industries, Indonesia is the world’s largest cigarette production hub, the Directorate General of Customs and Excise claims.

Major tobacco companies

1. Gudang Garam

2. Sampoerna (Philip Morris)

3. Djarum

4. Bentoel (British American Tobacco)

5. Nojorono

Top 5 Consuming Countries

Country                      Cigarettes (in millions)

China                          2,162,800

United States             357,000

Russian Federation    331,440

Japan                         258,500

Indonesia                  239,000

Source: The 2007 Report. ERC Statistics Intl PIc.

Regulations on tobacco control

National level

1. 1999 Government Regulation on Cigarette Precaution for Health, which was revised through the 2003 Government Regulation


1. 2005 Decree on Air Pollution

2. 2005 Gubernatorial Regulation on No-Smoking Areas


1. 2008 Decree on No-Smoking Areas

Highest per capita cigarette consumption/adult/year

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