Indonesia has some of the highest smoking rates in the world, with 3 out of every 4 Indonesian men being a regular tobacco user and over 200,000 people dying of tobacco-related diseases each year. This is due in large part to the government’s reluctance to regulate the tax-lucrative industry, not to mention the persuasion of the tobacco lobby and its deep pockets.
One of the millions of Indonesians negatively affected by the tobacco industry, a 50-year-old man named Rohayani, is now demanding that two of the country’s largest cigarette companies compensate him to the tune of IDR1 trillion (USD 72.6 million) for the damage their products have done to his quality of life and health. And he has threatened to sue PT Gudang Garam and PT Djarum Tbk if the two companies decide not to give into his demand, which could lead to the first serious legal challenge to the tobacco industry seen in Indonesia in some time.
What makes Rohayani’s threat of a lawsuit credible is that he is being represented by Todung Mulya Lubis, one of the country’s most famous lawyers (who was also recently tapped by President Joko Widodo to become Indonesia’s next ambassador to Norway).
“We filed a summons to Djarum and Gudang Garam as business actors producing and distributing cigarettes consumed by our clients from 1975 to 2000, which made him addicted and decreased his quality of life,” Todung said during a press conference on Friday as quoted by Kontan.
In the letter they sent to the two companies, Rohayani demanded that Gudang Garam compensate him IDR178,074,000 for the money he spent on their products as well as damages worth IDR500 billion. As for Djarum, he asked for IDR293,068,000 in compensation and an additional IDR500 billion in damages as well.
Rohayani is also being represented by another senior lawyer, Azas Tigor Nainggolan, who is working on behalf of the Public Advocates in Solidarity for Tobacco Control Indonesia.
Todung said the letter was sent to the two companies on February 19, though they only acknowledged their receipt in early March. He told the media on Friday that they would give the companies seven more days to meet the demands and if not they would consider moving forward with a lawsuit.
Tigor said the basis of the lawsuit would be Article 19, paragraph (1) of Law 8/1999 on Consumer Protection, which states that businesses are responsible for providing compensation for damages or losses to consumers caused by consuming their goods and/or using their services.
Todung said that suing the cigarette industry was an important step towards implementing stricter tobacco controls in Indonesia, referring to America, Japan and European countries as examples of places where lawsuits helped spur stronger regulations.
“In other countries there are many lawsuits against the cigarette industry, in the United States and Europe many class action lawsuits have challenged cigarette industry players, while in Indonesia it is still limited to campaigning,” he said.
Analysts say that Indonesia has been increasingly targeted by major international tobacco conglomerates who are seeing dwindling profits in developed countries due to increasing taxes and regulations. Meanwhile, the Indonesia government is one of the very few to have not yet ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. A lack of regulations on tobacco advertisements has also led to cigarette companies increasingly targeting children (underage smoking rates have actually increased in Indonesia in recent years).