National

Groups reject tobacco conference

A coalition of civil society groups under the collective banner MATA has called on the government to withdraw its support for the World Tobacco Asia (WTA) conference, slated for Sept. 19.

The coalition, comprising the Indonesian Consumers Protection Foundation (YLKI), the Jakarta Residents Forum, the National Commission for Mitigation of Tobacco Effects and others, said the planned conference is an insult to the country.

“The conference committee deems Indonesia a tobacco-friendly market with no smoking bans or other restrictions or regulations compared to other ASEAN countries. That is an insult to our nation because it means we are supporting death, and we are urging the government to ban this conference for our dignity,” Tulus Abadi of YLKI said on Thursday.

World Tobacco Asia is an annual international tobacco conference that offers the tobacco industry a forum to demonstrate their products and services to the Indonesian, Asia-Pacific and Australian tobacco markets.

Tulus said that at this year’s conference, cigarette makers were hoping to reach 8 million new tobacco consumers in the Asia-Pacific region, of which 6 million would be from Indonesia.

“Indonesia is hosting the conference for a second time, even after MATA staged protest at the conference’s venue, the Jakarta Convention Center [JCC], two years ago,” Tulus said.

Chairman of MATA Tubagus Haryo Kuntoro said that the organization expected the government to take action this year after its failure to do so two years ago.

“The government could ignore our protest, but we do hope that at least for this year’s event that government ministries do not support the conference,” Tubagus told reporters.

Tubagus said that the group planned several actions including a protest in front of the Presidential Palace on August 13 and a protest at the conference venue.

Data from the Health Ministry said that in 1995 there were 34 million active smokers in Indonesia. In 2010, that number had more than doubled to 80 million in Indonesia, a fact that members of the NGO coalition opposing the conference found deeply disturbing.

Talus said that tobacco consumption not only affected the health of smokers but also adversely impacted their finances.

“Data from the Central Statistics Agency [BPS] said that cigarettes are the second most important household item after rice among people from the lower income bracket in the country. They spend around 12.4 percent of their wages on cigarettes,” Tulus said.

“It’s their purchasing power that should be taken away from them, so that they could use the money for buying something else,” he added.

In addition to standing against the conference, the ad-hoc group of anti-tobacco activists hopes to push the government to ratify World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

“The FCTC stipulates that the government should impose higher taxes on cigarettes, order tobacco companies to put health warnings on cigarette packaging, and reduce cigarette ad campaigns,” Tubagus said. (nad)

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