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Indonesia: Planned E-Cigarette Ban Controversial

(Aug. 19, 2015) Indonesia’s Trade Minister, Rachmat Gobel, announced on May 18, 2015, that the government planned to ban sales of electronic cigarettes due to concern about the health impact of smoking such products, also known as vaping. (Linda Yulisman, RI Bans E-Cigarettes on Health Concerns, JAKARTA POST (May 19, 2015).) According to the head of the cigarette control subdivision of the Indonesian Food and Drugs Monitoring Agency, Lela Amelia, the government will set policies to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes and to ban the claim from being made that such devices are safe, in the absence of sufficient evidence. (Up in Smoke: Indonesian E-Cig Ban Plan Raises Concerns of Collusion, JAKARTA GLOBE (last visited Aug. 17, 2015).) No time frame for implementation of the new rules was announced, and the ban has yet to be imposed. (Id.; Yulisman, supra.)

There has been opposition to the plan from the community of sellers and users of the electronic devices. An owner of a cafe called the “Ministry of Vape Indonesia,” Dimasz Jeremia, said that distributors of the products are concerned about the future of the business. (Up in Smoke: Indonesian E-Cig Ban Plan Raises Concerns of Collusion, supra.) Dimasz also argued that banning vaping is the wrong approach to deal with the public health issues related to smoking, because e-cigarettes contain nicotine but not other toxic chemicals found in regular cigarettes. He noted:

In 10 years, there will be one billion deaths related to cigarettes. [Vape] is the new technology that reduces the negative effects of cigarettes. Maybe it’s not perfect now, but we have to nurture this technology. [Government] regulations have to protect this. … Now, cigarette companies have a zero-nicotine line, but I don’t need zero nicotine, I need zero tar. (Id.)

Other critics of the proposal, both within and outside of Indonesia, have also suggested that the ban plan is a result of corruption in the form of collusion between the government and tobacco companies. University of Indonesia economist Abdillah Ahsan estimates that between tobacco farming and cigarette production, over a million Indonesians work in the traditional cigarette industry; in addition, that industry’s excise taxes comprise 7% of state revenues in Indonesia. However Ahsan stated that he believes that the government “is sincere, that the [e-cigarette] ban is not because of the tobacco industry.” (Id.) E-cigarettes are not produced in Indonesia; they are largely imported from China. (Yulisman, supra.)

It has been reported that e-cigarettes are becoming popular in Indonesia with people attempting to quit smoking. Estimates are that 20-35% of the population smokes, and the government has taken a number of anti-tobacco use measures. (Id.; Yulisman, supra; see also Constance Johnson, Indonesia: New Tobacco Control Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Jan. 16, 2013); Tobacco Control Law, Ministerial Regulation No. 109, 2012, Cabinet Secretariat website (in Indonesian).)