Your letters: Tobacco farmers need not fear
Paper Edition | Page: 8
The writer of the letter “WHO, tobacco and farmers”, (The Jakarta Post, June 28) included a great deal of incorrect information about the issue, which is misleading for the public. The record needs to be set straight with facts.
First, Indonesian tobacco farmers have no case in protesting against the World Health Organization (WHO), since
Indonesia is not a party to the global tobacco treaty, the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Second, the writer is completely misinformed about who
authored the report she is referring to — it was not the WHO.
The recommendations about alternate crops for tobacco farmers were actually proposed by countries that have ratified the tobacco treaty.
A working group was set up under FCTC Articles 17 and 18 and they consist of a cross-section of tobacco growing countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, the European Union, India, the
Philippines, Thailand and 13 African countries. This working group has not called for a ban on tobacco and it is not aimed at forcing farmers to do anything. The purpose of their report is to identify how farmers can be assisted and to consider alternatives to tobacco because they already face numerous problems which keep them poor and indebted in many instances.
The public health community is not calling for a ban on tobacco farming either. The tobacco industry is perpetuating this misinformation of a “ban” because it is effective in creating fear and confusion among farmers. If this lie is repeated often enough, it has the danger of becoming the “truth” in the public’s mind.
There are around 65 million smokers in Indonesia who smoke 250 billion cigarettes per year. Currently, the farmers don’t grow enough tobacco to supply the 65 million smokers. Large quantities of tobacco leaf are, therefore, being imported. Further, imports have increased from 34,248 tons (17 percent of total consumption) in 2000 to 65,685 tons (51 percent of total consumption) in 2010. At the same time, Indonesia’s tobacco production has shrunk from 204,329 tons in 2000 to 135,678 in 2010. Increasing cigarette consumption should increase tobacco production but in fact it’s only increasing tobacco imports.
The number of teenage smokers has increased to 19 percent, which is a 200 percent increase from 1995 (7 percent). The biggest increase is among teenage boys, which has risen from 14 percent to 37 percent. Our policymakers must do something because more children below the age of 10 are starting to smoke. Everybody has seen images of the little boy smoking online and it is worrying when no firm action is taken to protect our children.
Public education on its own is useless and ineffective if tobacco advertising and sponsorship of sports and music is not banned. It’s a pity that our young people cannot enjoy music and sports without tobacco like other children around the world.
Many of the points raised by the writer are identical to the myths and accusations perpetuated by the tobacco industry. Tobacco farmers in Indonesia are actually somewhat protected in that every year, 2 percent of tobacco excise revenue goes directly to assist farmers in the form of tobacco excise revenue sharing, amounting to Rp 1.4 trillion (US$149.8 million) each year.
Faculty of Economics, University of Indonesia