JAKARTA (AFP) – Chain-smoking Indonesia is moving to stub out its booming e-cigarette sector, sparking criticism that the government is siding with giant tobacco firms at the expense of public health.
The South-east Asian nation has one of the world’s highest smoking rates – some 65 per cent of adult men smoke – with a pack costing just US$2 (S$2.63).
Cigarette advertising is everywhere across the vast archipelago which once had the dubious distinction of being home to one of the world’s youngest nicotine addicts – a chain-smoking toddler who made global headlines in 2010.
Smoking cessation products are tough to find and Indonesia stands out as a key growth market for global tobacco firms increasingly shut out of countries with tough anti-smoking legislation.
Despite its tobacco-haven status, e-cigarette cafes have been popping up across Indonesia in recent years amid debate over their safety.
In response, Jakarta said it will impose a whopping 57 per cent tax on non-tobacco alternatives starting this summer.
He added: “I do believe that the policy sides with the (tobacco) industry.” Rhomedal Aquino, spokesman for the Association of Indonesian Personal Vaporisers, told AFP: “We agree with a tax plan to control consumption, but a 57 per cent duty is too high – it will kill a growing industry.” “It will make us look like a killing machine when we’re not,” he added.
E-cigarettes, which have gained popularity in the last decade, are handheld devices that heat up a nicotine-containing liquid so users can inhale the vapors.
The early scientific consensus is that they are likely safer than conventional cigarettes for adults.
Indonesia’s trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita set off a backlash from anti-smoking groups in November when he suggested tobacco farmers would be hurt by the fledgling industry, and that those turning to e-cigarettes – also known as vaping – should smoke regular cigarettes instead.
“We should turn vapers into conventional cigarette smokers,” he said at the time.
The government’s plans are not welcome news for IT worker Roy Iskandar, a heavy smoker-turned-vaper who is worried about looming price hikes.
Iskandar turned to non-tobacco alternatives after numerous failed quitting attempts.
“If they impose such high taxes, people who feel healthier after quitting conventional cigarettes like me could relapse,” the 38-year-old said.
Indonesia’s customs office said it hopes the big tax hike will make e-cigaretttes unaffordable for children, while the health ministry said it is not sold on the argument that vaping is safe.
“E-cigarettes are just as dangerous and can be even more carcinogenic” than regular cigarettes, said senior ministry official Muhammad Subuh.
“We reject both conventional and electronic cigarettes – it’s better to quit smoking altogether. There is no such thing as ‘less dangerous’ when it comes to smoking.”
Read more at straitstimes.com