Forget health risks, cigarettes make money!

Indonesia’s Golkar party, part of President Yudhoyono’s coalition, is opposing modest plans to reduce smoking by raising taxes and capping production. Its reasons? Cigarettes make too much money!The government of one of the world’s top cigarette producers is trying to reduce its sky-high smoking rates by raising excise taxes and limiting the number of cancer sticks locally-based producers (like Philip Morris and British and American Tobacco) can make. The measures are nothing like the controls in other countries and Indonesia remains a veritable Shangri-La for cigarette manufacturers, but every little bit helps. Right?

Not so, says Golkar Party lawmaker Nusron Wahid. “The production should stand at 261 billion as originally planned,” Nusron was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post.

The newspaper reported that the House of Representatives’ Commission XI on finance was also against capping production at 248.4 billion sticks from 261 billion this year. Nusron claimed the production cut would cost the state 10 trillion rupiah (1.1 billion dollars) in lost revenue.

He also proposed lowering the excise tax on clove cigarettes – the ones most Indonesians smoke – and raising it on unflavored cigarettes. “Consumers of unflavored cigarette usually have a higher income than clove cigarette consumers,” he said.

According to the Post, the government has proposed to increase excise tax on all cigarette products to lift revenue to 57 trillion rupiah (6.3 billion dollars) this year from 54 trillion in 2009. This is big money and wherever there’s money you can be sure there’s an Indonesian politician looking to make a profit.

Last month the Coalition Against Corruption of the Anti-Tobacco Clause, a citizens watchdog keeping an eye on lawmakers dealing with tobacco policy, asked police to investigate three politicians for allegedly interfering with a bill on smoking to eliminate a clause designating tobacco as an addictive substance. (Yes that’s right, Indonesia has only just established that little fact). The bill had been passed by parliament last year and was about to be signed into law when someone realised that the addictive substance clause had simply been rubbed out. How very weird! A subsequent investigation by the Ethics Council of the House of Representatives concluded that the mysterious deletion – explained away as an innocent secretarial slip up – was more than an administrative error.

Two of the politicians named by the coalition are from the Golkar party, and one is from the Democratic Party of Struggle of former president Megawati Sukarnoputri. There is no presumption of their guilt of course, but the people of Indonesia deserve to know who was fiddling with the legislation and why.

Meanwhile a health department plan to issue a regulation banning cigarette advertising seems to be on ice after meeting opposition from the ministries of finance, industry, agriculture and manpower. And Indonesia remains the only country in Asia that has not signed the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

(Photo originally uploaded to flickr by said&done)

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