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WorldWise: Child addicts at heart of Indonesia anti-smoking suit

Fri, Jun 22, 2012

A child exhales as he smokes a cigarette near a polluted river in Jakarta.

Anti-tobacco advocates in Indonesia plan to file a class action lawsuit this month using cases of child addicts in the hope of forcing tougher regulations on a society where 1 in 3 people smokes.

It is a rare attempt of its kind to constrain a tobacco industry that looks to the world’s fourth most populous country and its growing appetite for cigarettes to replace dwindling sales elsewhere.

The suit against tobacco companies and the Indonesian government argues that feeble regulation has left children dangerously exposed to the risks of smoking.

“There are … kids who have fallen victim to the impact of cigarette companies and smoking. They are addicted. In the context of people’s rights, the society has been disadvantaged by the tobacco industry,” head of the National Commission for Child Protection, Arist Merdeka Sirait, said.

Indonesia is something of a paradise for both smokers and tobacco companies, with the world’s fifth largest population of smokers. It is a widely tolerated habit and one that even in this relatively poor archipelago, most people can afford to feed.

And it is getting more popular as the economy grows. In 1995, 1 in 4 Indonesians smoked. Fifteen years later it had risen to 1 in 3.

That in turn has tempted international tobacco firms to join the hugely profitable home-grown ones such as Gudang Garam, P T Djarum and Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna, which is now part of Philip Morris International.

The government even gives tax incentives for the manufacture of hand-rolled cigarettes because it provides such a major source of employment in east Java, where the local firms congregate.

Sampoerna said it had only seen reports of the planned lawsuit and could not comment. Other producers also had no immediate comment.

Olivia Rondunuwu & Matthew Bigg, REUTERS

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