Top-Notch Human Resources Yet Haven for Smokers?


February 14, 2020

Greetings to the audience of Cokro TV.

One of the seven development agendas outlined by President Jokowi for his second term in office is “Building High-Quality and Competitive Human Resources”. The issue of human resource development had been referred to earlier in Jokowi’s victory speech with his running mate Ma’ruf in Sentul on 14 July 2019. In his speech, the President put forward six development agendas under the “Vision for Indonesia” framework. One of which concerns the health of school-aged children. 

The commitment to develop resilient and superior human capital has in fact already been pledged during Jokowi’s first term in office. One of the ways to achieve this is by distancing the people – especially the golden generation now living in the time period of demographic bonus, more so for school-aged children – away from tobacco. 

In the previous RPJM (Medium-Term Development Plan), the target was to bring smoking prevalence among adolescents aged 10-18 down from 7.2 percent in 2013 to 5.4 percent in 2019. Instead of meeting the target or at least nearing it, smoking prevalence among children has risen to 8.8 percent in 2016 and climbing further to 9.1 percent

This is a yellow alert.

These children became first-time smokers as a result of the government’s neglect in protecting them against the tobacco industry’s ruthless market penetration strategy.

The tobacco industry spends one million dollars per hour on product advertising, and billions of dollars more on discounts to retailers. 

In Indonesia, cigarettes are easily accessible and relatively cheap. Want it even cheaper? Buy a pack with fewer cigarette sticks, some contain 16, and others even less with only 12 cigarettes. Modern retail kiosks and traditional shops sell cigarettes right next to or across schools. Cigarette advertisements are pervasive, outdoors, on television and social media–at every turn.

Nearly all leading white cigarette brands are subject to ridiculously low taxes, and therefore can be sold at a relatively cheaper price. The industry strategizes by reducing cigarette size, smaller diameter and shorter length, in a bid to keep prices even lower. An example is provided in this video.

To offset the tax rate levied on its products, tobacco companies introduce kretek cigarette packs with quantities that vary. For the same brand, a pack of 20 cigarettes is of course more expensive than a pack of 16 or 12. If you calculate, the price of each stick in a pack of 16 or 12 is in fact usually more expensive. This is the industry’s tactic to lure new smokers, as if cigarettes are still cheap. 

The government is giving the tobacco industry free rein to “hoodwink” consumers. Unlike many other countries where only 20-stick packs are being sold, in Indonesia the options are mindboggling. Worse still, consumers can buy them in singles.

The government knows all too well that poor families spend a lot on cigarettes, second only to rice. Household expenditure for filtered kretek cigarettes amounts to nearly the same as total spending on protein intake for bean curd, tempe, chicken and eggs. 

The government should also realize that 30 percent of BPJS Kesehatan (National Health Insurance Program) expenditure are used up for patients with smoking-related diseases, and therefore significantly contributes to BPJS Kesehatan’s deficit that the government to this day still has not covered.

And what’s more, the government is fully aware that smoking does more harm than good. For this reason, cigarette tax is imposed. Bear in mind that the purpose of tobacco taxation is not to be the mainstay of revenue for the government, but as an instrument for controlling tobacco production and consumption. The government also needs to draw the line when it comes to tobacco industry tactics in spreading its tentacles far and wide in society.

Let’s not regress yet again like when the government cancelled plans to raise tobacco tax and simplify the tax structure in the run-up to elections. Let’s treasure our golden generation.

The government’s sheer passivity has led to an alarming rising trend in total smoking prevalence in Indonesia. 

Specifically. among the male population, the smoking prevalence in Indonesia is the world’s second highest after Timor-Leste. Over 70 percent of the male population in Indonesia smokes, and that includes me. 

While the rest of the world have been successful in reducing the percentage of the population who smokes, in Indonesia the figures continue to soar, never once falling, not since 2000.  

If the government is indeed deeply concern about improving the quality of human capital and create top-notch human resources, prove it with concrete actions. Immediately ratify the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control). 

We should be ashamed for being among the seven countries left in the world who have not ratified the FCTC. The six other countries are Somalia, Malawi, Eritrea, Andorra, Liechtenstein, and Monaco. 180 countries worldwide have signed the FCTC.  They include the world’s largest tobacco producers like Indonesia, such as China, India, Brazil, and the United States.

No more sitting at the same table as the tobacco industry in formulating stringent policies and measures to rein in the tobacco industry. No more government ministers who say whatever they want for the sake of sectoral interests.

So please Mr. President, sign it in golden ink, protect our golden generation and create a Golden Indonesia. Let’s hope this comes true when we celebrate a century of independence.

Thank you. 

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