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Cigarette ad makes mockery of National Health Day

Copies of a national newspaper featuring a half-page tobacco advertisement on its front page was given away at an event held by the Health Ministry to commemorate National Health Day, which falls every Nov. 12.

The incident comes at a time when the ministry is pushing the Trade Ministry, the Industry Ministry and the Manpower and Transmigration Ministry to agree to ratify the global treaty on tobacco control, which requires a total ban on cigarette advertisements.

Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi voiced her surprise that paper bearing a half-page cigarette ad was received by almost all of the ceremony attendees along with a snack box.

“We should not be giving away newspapers with a cigarette ad on its front page on National Health Day. Where is the event’s committee?” Nafsiah asked her staff after being questioned by reporters about the incident.

“Let’s just focus on the positive side. Look at the health warning stated on the bottom of the ad. This is what will happen if you smoke,” she told reporters, pointing at the warning stating: “Smoking can cause cancer, heart attacks, impotence and is harmful to pregnancy and fetal development.”

Nafsiah said the ministry did not intend to promote smoking by giving away newspapers with the ad. “This shows how aggressive cigarette companies can be, as they will avail of any opportunity to promote their products,” she said.

According to Article 28 of Government Regulation No. 109/2012 on tobacco control, no newspaper is allowed to carry tobacco ads on its front page.

Health Ministry spokesperson Murti Utami said there had been no cooperation between the ministry and the newspaper, and the distribution was not endorsed by the ministry.

“We did cooperate with another newspaper, but I don’t recall any cooperation with this newspaper. We have no intention of supporting such advertisements on National Health Day,” Murti said. “We did not realize this newspaper was given away.”

As previously reported, Nafsiah has been continuously promoting the urgency to ratify the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), as Indonesia is the only Asian country that has not ratified the treaty.

The treaty aims at promoting public health by monitoring tobacco use, protecting people from tobacco smoke, enforcing bans on tobacco advertising and raising taxes on tobacco products.

Nafsiah also previously said that she was considering making smokers ineligible for universal health coverage, saying that smoking should be considered a form of self-harm.

During the 49th National Health Day, themed Toward Healthy Indonesia and Quality Universal Health Coverage, Nafsiah said the ministry and all stakeholders, including health agencies in 33 provinces, were set to implement universal health coverage in stages from January.

By 2019, the healthcare program will cover all citizens, including around 63 percent of the 240 million population, who, according to Health Ministry data, already receive aid from various social protection programs.

Separately, the Indonesian Children’s Lantern, an NGO focusing on defending children’s rights, is calling on legislators to include a clause on a total ban on cigarette ads in the revision to the 2002 Broadcasting Law. “The clause should explicitly state that any form of cigarette promotion strategies that display products, logos, brands or company names be categorized as cigarette ads. Even displaying colors associated with a particular cigarette brand should be prohibited,” Hery Chairansyah, the executive director of the Indonesian Children’s Lantern, said in a discussion held at the University of Indonesia in Depok, West Java, on Tuesday.

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