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'Coughin’ Nails' – 20 to the Pack

Indonesian Groups Go to Court in Attempt to Force President and Legislators to Get Tough on Smoking.

(6/21/2008) Some would argue that smoking in Indonesia is more than simple an institution; it's a long-standing cultural tradition. The smell that greets locals and visitors across the archipelago is the all-pervasive sweet smell of the cloves that combine in almost equal measure with tobacco in Indonesian cigarettes.

Reuters report that at least four Indonesian NGOs (non-government organizations) attempting to curb the high rates smoking in Indonesia have filed a lawsuit against President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and national parliamentarians for their failure to ratify an international treaty against tobacco.

The four NGOs, including the Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI), accuse the Government of failing to take adequate steps to discourage smoking, a habit that they insist places an onerous burden on the national economy and forces millions into poverty.

Ranked as the fifth largest cigarette market in the world, Indonesian cigarettes generate US$ 8 billion in sales each year, employ millions and pay a tax of around 10% on total sales to the national coffers.

The NGOs are calling on the Government to increase cigarette prices to discourage smoking. A pack of cigarettes in Indonesia can cost less than US$1.00.

In what as seen as a concession to the powerful national tobacco industry, Indonesia has refused to sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). By contrast, China, considered the largest cigarette producer in the world, is among the 168 signatories to the treaty.

The FCTC presents an entire range of measures to curb tobacco consumption including high tax regimes, and bans on promotion and advertising.

"We demand the Indonesian president ratify FCTC because it can protect people from the bad impact of tobacco," said Tulus Abadi, an anti-tobacco advocate at YLKI, who attended the formal filing of the complaint in a Jakarta court. “The majority of smokers are poor people who allocate more money for cigarettes than for education and food," added Tulus.

Indonesia remains a smokers paradise with cheap tobacco and only limited bans prohibiting smoking in public places. And, despite rules prohibiting cigarette advertising, cigarette producers remain among the most lucrative source of advertising revenues for Indonesian television stations.