Thu, Jun 26, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Cigarette makers ignore Indonesia label deadline


A vendor holds packs of cigarettes to show new health warning labels at a mini store in Jakarta on Tuesday.Warning: Smoking can damage your health.

Photo: EPA

Tobacco companies largely ignored an Indonesian deadline to put graphic health warnings on all cigarette packs being sold, another setback for anti-smoking efforts in a country that is home to the world’s highest rate of male smokers and a wild, wild west of advertising.

Despite having a year and a half to prepare warning photos that are to cover 40 percent of cigarette packs, most tobacco firms failed to meet Tuesday’s deadline, the Indonesian National Commission for Child Protection said.

It found little sign of change in brands being sold in Jakarta and 11 other cities across the sprawling archipelago.

“This clearly indicates that the cigarette industry has defied Indonesian law,” commission chair Arist Merdeka Sirait said. “The government has been defeated by the cigarette industry.”

Only 409 of the more than 3,300 brands owned by 672 companies nationwide had registered the photos they plan to use on their products as of Monday, the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency said.

They were given a choice of five images in June last year.

Indonesian Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi said companies that missed the deadline would be issued warnings, and those that fail to comply could eventually be fined up to US$42,000 and face five years in prison.

Indonesia’s biggest cigarette producer, Philip Morris-owned Sampoerna, said it began distributing products with the new warnings on Monday, but needed more time to clear out existing stock.

However, the labels must be displayed on shelves by Tuesday, Mboi said.

“We believe the government will implement the regulation consistently and fairly, so as to realize a climate of healthy competition among cigarette manufacturers, as well as providing clear information about the impact of smoking on health,” Sampoerna spokesman Tommy Hersyaputera said.

Indonesia has a long history of delaying tobacco regulations. The graphic warnings stem from health regulations that passed in 2009, though it was not until 18 months ago that a specific decree was issued for implementation.

And Indonesia is one of the few countries that has not joined a WHO tobacco treaty. The order has taken years to reach Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s desk, and he still has not signed it.

He will leave office in October after elections next month.

Tobacco control is particularly contentious in Indonesia, the world’s fifth-largest cigarette producer and a growth market for the industry.

Farmers hold rowdy protests when restrictions are proposed, and lobbyists maintain tight connections with politicians in a government rife with graft.

Many forms of tobacco advertising long banned in the West remain ubiquitous here. Towering billboards and LED screens scream messages such as, “Marlboro Ice Blast ... crush it, unleash it.” At the main international airport, a bright blue advertisement for Clas mild cigarettes urges, “Act Now! Talk less do more.”

Tobacco commercials are still on television, and although new regulations ban sponsorship of events, some companies have continued that practice.

Tobacco-related illnesses kill at least 200,000 each year in the country, which has a population of about 240 million.

A national survey in 2012 found that 67 percent of all males over age 15 smoke — the world’s highest rate — while 35 percent of the total population lights up, surpassed only by Russia.

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