Indonesian Child Smokers Spark Lawsuit
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Anti-smoking advocates in Indonesia plan to file a class action lawsuit this month, using cases of child smokers to back their claims. The suit, filed against the tobacco companies and the Indonesian government, argues that half-hearted regulation has left children perilously vulnerable to the risks of smoking. According to Arist Merdeka Sirait, head of the National Commission for Child Protection, "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." But anti-smoking activists face an uphill battle in a country where there is a seemingly insatiable appetite for cigarettes, which the tobacco industry relies on to compensate for declining sales elsewhere. The Indonesian government gives tax incentives for the manufacture of hand-rolled cigarettes because it provides a key source of employment in east Java, where the local firms congregate. Currently, one in three Indonesians smoke, and tobacco products are the number two household expense, after rice, according to the statistics bureau. Cigarette firms are expected to contribute $8.45 billion in tax revenue in 2012, according to the finance ministry. Government authorities are loath to tighten regulations and risk losing funding. Tutus Abaci, a member of Indonesia's National Commission on Tobacco Control, says: "Every time you want to make a regulation, it is very difficult because on every level of the bureaucracy they have been bought by the cigarette industry."