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Asia Minute: Indonesia’s Tobacco Wars

Seika / Flickr
Seika / Flickr

A recent development in Southeast Asia has sparked a national debate in the region’s largest economy. Indonesia is wrestling with questions of public health, education, and smoking. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

Cigarettes are cheap in Indonesia—they can be less than a dollar a pack.  A university economist did a survey of a thousand residents recently—asking how they felt about doubling the price of cigarettes—and using the money to fund the national health insurance program.  About three-quarters of those who responded thought that would be a good idea—and that includes smokers.

In fact, many supported a move to quadruple the price of cigarettes…suggesting that would be drastic enough to force many smokers to quit.  The survey came from the University of Indonesia’s Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies…and the results went viral on social media across Indonesia.

Critics say the government is split in its reaction---supporting public health, but also supporting the tobacco industry.  That industry is gearing up to double production from 2014 levels by the year 2020.  According to government figures, the tobacco sector employs about 6 and a half million people….and produces about $11 billion dollars in tax revenue each year.

The tobacco industry also has a very strong lobbying presence in Indonesia—one of the few places in the world where smoking rates have actually increased in recent years.  In 2007, 34% of the population 15 or older smoked…by 2013, that had climbed to 36%.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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