Although hard numbers are difficult to find, the huge number of vape shops that have popped up across the country over the last few years would seem to indicate that a significant percentage of smokers in Indonesia (which has some of the highest smoking rates in the world) are switching to electronic cigarettes. And while it’s still debatable whether vaping is on the whole healthier than regular cigarettes, there is strong evidence for that being the case.
But the Indonesian government once again seems to be putting economic interests ahead of health interests when it comes to tobacco. Last week, the Trade Ministry has declared that it will be severely restricting the import of e-cigarette liquid (often referred to as vape juice) in Indonesia through a new regulation requiring importers to get recommendations from the Ministry of Health, the Food and Drugs Administration (BPOM), the Ministry of Industry and meeting guidelines set forth by the Indonesian National Standard Board (SNI) before being able to bring any e-cigarette products into the country.
Minister of Trade Enggartiasto Lukita admitted it would be extremely hard for importers to get all the necessary permissions from the various government agencies, but said it didn’t bother him as electronic cigarettes did not provide any benefits to Indonesia since they did not help local tobacco farmers and could possibly be used to import narcotics (referring to marijuana-infused vape juice from the Netherlands allegedly being sold in Indonesia recently)
Enggar also said the government would not hesitate to crack down on merchants who were still importing and selling unauthorized e-cigarette products Indonesia.
“Yes, we’ll catch them (if they’re still importing), so that electric smokers will be changed into regular smokers,” Enggar said as quoted by Kompas.
Advocates for e-cigarettes say that they are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes since the vaporizing process does not create all of the harmful carcinogens that is created from burning tobacco. Additionally, users can buy vape juice with varying levels of tobacco, easily allowing them to decrease their tobacco intake incrementally. Though to be fair, many doctors say vaping still poses many health risks, some of which might not be determined until users have been exposed to them for decades.
But if the government is really concerned about the health risks of vaping, then shouldn’t traditional cigarettes be subject to the same kind of scrutiny and controls? Because, with over 200,000 Indonesians dying of tobacco-related disease per year and the government refusing to significantly raise tobacco taxes, enact the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control or take any other reasonable steps to reduce Indonesia’s smoking epidemic, they are just reinforcing the notion that they care more about protecting the profits of big tobacco companies (and the taxes they pay) then they do about protecting the health of their citizens.