Photo credit: TBEC Review (the-best-electronic-cigarette-review.com)
It is no secret that Indonesia has a serious smoking problem. Over a third of adult Indonesians smoke and the WHO estimating that 200,000 Indonesians die of smoking-related illnesses every year.
Recently we have seen a huge boom in the sale of personal vaporizers, a type of e-cigarette, in Jakarta. Many Indonesians are using them as an effective way to quit smoking.
Or at least they were.
The government has announced that the import of all electronic cigarettes will be banned in the immediate future. The policy is part of a newly issued Presidential Decree on the circulation of prohibited, controlled and regulated goods.
The director general of standardization and consumer protection (SPK) at the Ministry of Commerce, Widodo, said the ban on the import of electronic cigarettes comes from the Ministry of Health and the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM).
Widodo said the import ban is based on health considerations. “Apparently there is ongoing research that electronic cigarettes contain nicotine and substances hazardous to people’s health,” Widodo said last weekend as quoted by Kompas.
Even before the regulations set forth in the Presidential Decree can be fully formulated, the termination of electric cigarette imports will be implemented through a regulation from the Ministery of Trade . Currently, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade and the Ministry of Trade are working together to immediately issue an import ban, which Widodo said will be in place by the second half of this year at the latest.
So, how valid is the government’s justification for the ban – that e-cigarettes are dangerous to your health? Well first of all, nobody has argued that e-cigarettes are more dangerous than regular cigarettes. So there is a level of hypocrisy in the government banning e-cigarettes because there is research that they could be hazardous to people’s health when there are mountains of evidence proving that regular cigarettes are definitely bad for people’s health.
However, to be fair, there is quite a bit of debate about whether e-cigarettes are harmful in general. Some people argue they are potentially dangerous, citing in particular the lack of regulation on the liquids used in e-cigs. Others argue they are far less dangerous than regular cigarettes and are a vital tool to help people quit smoking.
Some other countries such as Brazil, Singapore, the Seychelles, and Uruguay have also banned e-cigarettes, so Indonesia’s ban isn’t unprecedented. But we seriously question whether the powerful and extremely lucrative tobacco industry did not have a hand in pushing our government to squash the rapidly developing e-cigarette and vaping industry, which obviously threatens their long term profits.
We’ve seen how far tobacco companies will go to fight any form of anti-smoking measure, especially in developing countries such as Indonesia, so it wouldn’t surprise us at all if this is their doing as well.