Indonesian tobacco firm blames govt for youth marketing

Indonesia’s biggest cigarette maker, Philip Morris affiliated Sampoerna, has issued a statement absolving itself of responsibility for its own aggressive marketing to children and women in the developing country.

Sampoerna told The Financial Times it’s the government’s fault for not banning such advertising:

Sampoerna also says that it has repeatedly urged the Indonesian government “to adopt regulation to further restrict marketing and advertising and to adopt an enforceable minimum age law with regards to tobacco purchase . . . We recognise that our products, like all tobacco products, cause disease and are addictive. In our view, issues surrounding tobacco are best addressed through comprehensive and effective government legislation.”

So the company knows that its product causes fatal disease and addiction but it continues to market them to young children because the government hasn’t told them to stop. Until there is “effective” government legislation, they say, we’re just going to carry on pushing our deadly drug on children. 

What’s the Indonesian government doing in response to this hokum? Pretty much nothing, because the tobacco industry contributes more than six billion dollars a year in taxes (even though excise duties are among the lowest in the world).

It’s all about the money, simple as that. Stuff the people. Stuff the kids.

Indonesian Health Minister Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih told The Financial Times that reining in the tobacco industry is one of her top priorities, but we’ll see how far she gets when push comes to shove.

The minister has been all but mute in the face of recent scandals over child smoking and cigarette advertising, and her rare statements have been feeble at best.

So it’s hardly credible when she tells a foreign newspaper that she’s going to get tough with Big Tobacco: “It is one of my highest priorities. I will feel very guilty if I don’t initiate that.”

OK minister, so why don’t you do something? We’re all waiting. Don’t be shy…

The fact is that only a week or so ago the minister was asked about cigarette marketing and she passed the buck to local government, saying it was their responsibility. Technically she’s correct but maybe it’s time for a little leadership on this issue.

Kelly Clarkson removed tobacco branding from these Jakarta gig posters

Indonesia currently has almost no restrictions on tobacco advertising and cigarettes are regularly handed out to teenagers at brand-sponsored events like pop concerts etc.

One thing the minister could do is make a public stand, give interviews about the evils of smoking and the need for reform, criticise the marketing practices of tobacco companies, visit the family of the smoking toddler. The list is obvious and long but this minister, if she is doing anything at all, apparently prefers to be invisible.

Endang says she is drafting what The Financial Times calls “guidelines” on tobacco marketing to women and children which would ban billboards, slap pictorial health warnings on cigarette packs and outlaw smoking in public buildings. It doesn’t mention event sponsorship, one of the industry’s favoured techniques for getting kids hooked on nicotine.

 She also promised to adopt the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control by the end of the year, hardly a bold move considering Indonesia is a shameful laggard in ratifying this internationally recognised, “evidence-based treaty” on tobacco regulation and the right to health.

Ratifying the convention is one thing, passing the related legislation and enforcing it will be a whole other kettle of fish. The minister knows that words alone are not enough.

(Sampoerna brand photo courtesy MartijnL via Creative Commons)

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