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Indonesia – still pandering to the tobacco industry

14 November 2022

It seems the tobacco industry’s grip on Indonesia is strong and shows no sign of easing. It operates in an industry-friendly environment not seen anywhere in Asia, enabling it to make huge profits.

Although adolescent smoking is rising, Indonesia allows cigarette advertising and sponsorship targeting youth. National top sport, badminton, is still sponsored by PT Djarum (Figure 1). The World Badminton Federation has turned a blind eye to this tobacco sponsorship although complaints were filed with this governing body.

Figure 1: Djarum’s sponsorship of badminton

Government officials freely appear on events sponsored by the tobacco industry such the Indonesia Millennial and Gen-Z Summit 2022 for young people. The event was attended by Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs of Indonesia, Health Minister and the Governor of DKI Jakarta among other prominent leaders and public figures (Figure 2).

Figure 2: PT Djarum sponsored Summit for young people

World No.5 transnational tobacco company, KT&G, which relies on cigarette sales overseas, describes its business in Indonesia as “solid volume growth and high revenue growth”. KT&G, which sells the cigarette brand Esse, is expanding and it reported  its cigarette sales grew steadily during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In October 2022, the tobacco and e-cigarette industry hosted an expo in Jakarta to promote and sell more vape products, entitle Electronic Atomization Exhibition (IECIE2022). About 100 exhibitors and more than 10,000 visitors were reported to have visited the exhibition. Currently there is no legislation in Indonesia to regulate e-cigarettes. An estimated 11% of adolescents use e-cigarettes. Most of the promotion is done online via social media such as Instagram and TikTok, easily accessible to young people.

What advancement is there on tobacco control? Recently the Ministry of Finance announced a 10% excise tax increase for 2023 and 10% for 2024. According to local tobacco control groups, the 10% increase is very small and will not be effective in reducing the prevalence of smokers, and will not meet the government’s target to reduce the prevalence of child smokers. The absence of tiers simplification was disappointing. The current excise structure with 8 existing tiers, makes it easy for smokers to switch to cheaper cigarettes, and facilitates the industry to engage in tax evasion resulting in double loss for health and state revenue.

As Indonesia continues to pander to the tobacco industry, national level tobacco control remains a huge challenge. But there is nothing to stop the cities from taking action and protecting public health.