Revealed — A Roadmap to Defeat Tobacco Tax & Keep Indonesians Addicted

By Ulysses Dorotheo
BANGKOK, Thailand, Apr 11 2019 (IPS)

The image of a smoking toddler from Indonesia horrified the
world but did little to motivate local policy makers to enact
measures to protect children and youth from the harms of tobacco
use. Indonesia has one of the world’s highest smoking rates where
two out of three men and about 40 percent of adolescent boys
smoke.

Cigarette prices in Indonesia are among the cheapest in the
region, where a pack of Marlboros is sold for as little as US$
1.70, while local brands or loose sticks are dirt cheap ($ 0.05 per
stick), easily affordable to the nation’s 65 million smokers.

Indonesia has a complex tobacco taxation structure of 12-tiers,
dividing between machine-made white cigarettes, machine-made Kretek
cigarettes, hand-rolled cigarettes, size of manufacturing
factories, and more. Annual increases in tobacco tax are small,
having little impact on cigarette prices to reduce consumption,
especially among the poor, who form the bulk of smokers.

In 2017, the Ministry of Finance issued a Regulation on Tobacco
Excise Tax to increase tax for 2018 and at the same time stipulated
a roadmap for the simplification of tax tiers, reducing from 12
tiers to 5 tiers by 2021.

The tier simplification roadmap was viewed as a win for public
health, as fewer tiers will close the tax and price gaps and reduce
the incentive for smokers to switch to cheaper cigarettes. However,
a year later, in November 2018, the simplification roadmap was
suddenly revoked thereby cancelling the tax increase and tier
reduction.

In his review of hundreds of news articles, Mouhamad Bigwanto, a
public health researcher from the University of Muhammadiyah Prof.
Dr. HAMKA, saw pro-tobacco industry groups unfold a systematic,
tactical plan that led to the defeat of the tobacco tax increase
and tiers simplification.

Documented in Tobacco
Industry Interference Undermined Tobacco Tax Policies in
Indonesia
, released by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control
Alliance (SEATCA), his findings illustrate the tobacco industry’s
plan to present the industry as being crucial to the economy, while
simultaneously undermining and derailing the tobacco excise policy
through a coordinated multi-pronged strategy.

In mid-2018, the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs
released a new Tobacco Roadmap on the importance of the industry.
This Tobacco Roadmap was the product of Independent Research and
Advisory Indonesia (IRAI), a think-tank that the Ministry engaged,
whose founder and head was the former CEO of Sampoerna Foundation,
the charity arm of PT HM Sampoerna, which is owned by one of the
world’s biggest cigarette manufacturers. IRAI lists Sampoerna
Strategic, a tobacco-related entity, as one of its clients.

The pro-industry Tobacco Roadmap rationalizes the importance of
the tobacco industry to the economy and argues for its protection
and growth until 2045, rehashing past arguments used by the
industry to oppose tobacco control.

It formed the basis to initiate and support measures to reject
tobacco tax increase and simplification. The Roadmap was introduced
and explained to various government departments including with the
Ministry of Health.

Various pro-tobacco industry front groups were mobilized to
build support and create public pressure. These groups vocalized a
consistent main message that increasing tax will ruin the industry
that employs 6 million workers, resulting in massive unemployment
and reduction in government revenue.

The messages of these groups were all well-aligned, echoed, and
re-echoed to reinforce one another. Media coverage of their
messages reached a crescendo at the appropriate time. On cue,
academics and research institutes generated and released evidence
that rejected tax increase and tiers simplification.

A prominent religious organization which has a powerful voice in
the Muslim majority country issued a clear message that the
government must revoke the excise simplification plan. Champions
from relevant government ministries, such as Labor and Industry,
made pro-industry statements that influenced the decision-making
process up to the highest executive level (President’s
level).

In contrast, voices from health groups supporting tax increase
and simplification were less in frequency and magnitude compared to
the pro-tobacco industry voices, such that at the end of 2018,
following strong pressure from various pro-tobacco industry groups
and institutions and systematic interference from the tobacco
industry, the Government announced it will not increase the excise
tax in 2019 and revoked the simplification roadmap.

The cancellation of the tax increase and annulment of the
simplification roadmap show both the might of the tobacco industry
in influencing policy makers and the vulnerability of the
Government to industry interference.

While the tobacco industry’s strategy to defeat tax increase
may not be new or novel, the willingness of policy makers to
respond positively to the industry is astounding when juxtaposed
against current global awareness on the harms of tobacco use.

Across the globe countries are setting target dates to become
tobacco-free, but the Indonesian government is moving purposefully
in the opposite direction to protect the tobacco industry for the
next two decades, unmindful that about 230,000 Indonesians are
killed annually by tobacco-related diseases.

Paradoxically, at high level meetings, Indonesia has committed
to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which
include a target to achieve health for all by reducing tobacco
use.

Clearly other measures are needed to protect public health
policy from being undermined by commercial interests. These
include:

• Adopting a government code of
conduct that regulates interactions with the tobacco industry and
its affiliates to ensure transparency and prevent industry
interference.
• Prohibiting institutions and individuals with tobacco industry
ties from developing tobacco control policies because of their
clear conflict of interests.
• Requiring political parties to disclose their funding sources
as part of good governance.

*SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental
alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN
countries to accelerate and effectively implement the
evidence-based tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC.
Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil
society for its advancement of tobacco control movements in
Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day
Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition
Award in 2014.

The post
Revealed — A Roadmap to Defeat Tobacco Tax & Keep Indonesians
Addicted
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo is Executive Director of
the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA)*

The post
Revealed — A Roadmap to Defeat Tobacco Tax & Keep Indonesians
Addicted
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Revealed — A Roadmap to Defeat Tobacco Tax & Keep Indonesians Addicted