Vaping is under threat in Indonesia. Chain-smoking Indonesia is moving to stub out its booming e-cigarette industry, which raises people’s criticism that the government is on giant tobacco firms side at the cost of public health.
The Southeast Asian country has one of the highest smoking rates in the world. About 65 percent of adult men smoking in this nation. A pack of cigarettes costs just $2 there.
Cigarette advertising is everywhere across Indonesia, which is an important growth market for global tobacco companies. In recent years, despite its tobacco-heaven status, e-cigarette cafes have been popping up across Indonesia amid debate over their safety.
In response, Jakarta said it would impose a 57 per cent tax on e-cigarettes this summer. Hasbullah Thabrany, a health expert and advisor for the National Commission on Tobacco Control, warned that although customs and excise law asked the government to impose taxes for such products, it was possible that authorities could use the tax to take a stand. He added: “I do think that the policy has something to do with the tobacco industry.”
Rhomedal Aquino, spokesman for the Association of Indonesian Personal Vaporizers said: “We agree to a tax plan to control consumption, but a 57 percent tax rate is too high. It will kill a growing industry.”
E-cigarettes have been popular for the past ten years. They are hand-held devices that can heat up nicotine-containing liquid so that the user can inhale the vapors. The early scientific consensus was that, for adults, they might be safer than smoking.
Last November, Indonesia’s trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita triggered a backlash from anti-smoking groups. He suggested tobacco growers would be subject to damage by the emerging vaping industry, and that those who use e-cigarettes—also known as vaping—should smoke regular cigarettes instead. “We should turn vapers into cigarette smokers,” he said at that time.
The government’s plans are not good news for IT worker Roy Iskandar. He is a heavy smoker-turned-vaper who worries about the rise in prices. “If they impose such a high tax, those who feel healthier after quitting cigarettes like me will relapse,” said the 38-year-old.
Indonesian customs office said it hopes the high tax will make e-cigarettes unaffordable for children, while the health ministry said it is not sold on the argument that vaping is safe. “E-cigarettes are as dangerous as cigarettes, even more carcinogenic than cigarettes,” said Muhammad Subuh, a senior ministry official. “We reject both traditional and electronic cigarettes—it’s better to quit them altogether. When it comes to smoking, there is no ‘less dangerous’ thing.”
Jakarta disputes claims the new policy places economics over public health. But tobacco is a big business. It contributes about $10.5 billion every year in taxes. In contrast, the vaping industy kicks in only $7.5 million, mostly through the sales tax.
Gudang Garam, a local brand, which makes ubiquitous clove-infused cigarettes, is one of the country’s biggest employers and the two brothers who own rival Djarum top the list of wealthiest Indonesians.
“This is not about siding with one business,” Deni Sirjantoro, spokesman for the Indonesian Customs and Exise office said. “The nation’s income from the vaping industry is not as big as tobacco duties. Cigarette duties can be as high as 54 percent.”
But activists say some of the most popular brands are taxed at rates around 35-40 percent, far below than the proposed 57 percent vaping duty. “The tax on cigarettes is not even that high,” said Eqy Riqly, manager of a vaping cafe in Jakarta.
Ryan is a writer, editor and content creator who spends most of his time bringing the interesting, entertaining, original and well-written articles to vapers. He believes that vaping is not only a healthier alternative to smoking, but also a great experience of life.