Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Indonesian Cigarettes Chronicles: A Quick Review on the Latest Constitutional Court's Decision

Today, the Constitutional Court issues its decision on the Judicial Review of Article 46 Paragraph 3 (c) of Law No. 32/2002 on Broadcasting ("Broadcasting Law") which basically deals on the constitutionality of the provision of a Law that allow cigarettes advertisement in broadcasting media. You can see the complete 306 pages decision here. The constitutional claim was made by among others the National Committee of Child Protection and the Child Protection Agency of West Java.

From my quick reading of the decision, I can conclude that the main target of this claim is to banish all type of cigarettes advertisement in Indonesian broadcasting media by claiming that the above provision of the Broadcasting Law is contravening with Article 28B paragraph (2) (the right of each child to live, grow, and develop, and to earn protection from violence and discrimination), Article 28A (the right of each person to live and maintain its life), Article 28C paragraph (1) (the right of each person to develop himself through satisfaction of basic needs) and Article 28F (the right of each person to communicate and obtain information to develop himself and his society) of the 1945 Constitution.

In its decision (by 5 to 4 vote, which means that it is a very close decision), the Constitutional Court rejects such claim entirely based on the following reasons: (i) cigarettes industry is still a legal and valid industry in Indonesia and therefore has the same right with other industries to promote and make advertisement on its business activities; (ii) there is already a strict regulation on cigarettes advertisement in Indonesia and therefore, if there is a violation to such regulation, such violation must be handled through the mechanism stated by the relevant regulation, i.e. it is not an issue on the constitutionality of the disputed provision, rather an issue on the implementation of a regulation; (iii) it is not clearly evidenced that there is a causality between cigarettes advertisement and the inability of a person to develop himself and his life; and (iv) even if cigarettes advertisement in broadcasting media is deemed unconstitutional and therefore must be banned, it won't affect the ability of the cigarettes company to use other media and mechanism to promote cigarettes and therefore it would not be effective to deemed such provision as unconstitutional and it wouldn't be fair to the cigarettes industry, i.e. why are they being prohibited to advertise in the broadcasting media only?

How about the dissenting opinion? It's quite simple, they discuss the danger of cigarettes and their bad effect to the youth and also the fact that while the advertisement of any other addictive substance is prohibited in the broadcasting media, the advertisement of cigarettes (which could definitely be considered as an addictive substance) is not prohibited as long as the advertisement does not involve any visualization of cigarettes. Therefore, in their opinion, advertisement of the cigarettes in the broadcasting media should be deemed unconstitutional and should be prohibited.

I tend to support the Constitutional Court official decision. However, before I discuss my reasons to support the decision, let me tell you that I'm not a fan of cigarettes, in fact, I hate them. I can't breath normally when cigarettes are all around, they cause bad odors and will definitely ruin your health. I guess everyone knows that, after all each cigarettes advertisement contains a warning on the danger of smoking and its negative effect to human's health.

So why do I support the Constitutional Court decision? Simply because from legal point of view their analysis is correct. If the Government declares that an industry is legal to be established and operated in Indonesia, why prohibit such Industry to develop its business here, including making advertisements through various broadcasting medias? Such advertisement prohibition would be nonsense and it would be better if from the first place the Government banned the entire cigarettes industry in entirety. Further, it is also correct that rather than arguing the constitutionality of the advertisement of cigarettes in broadcasting media, it would be better to focus on enforcing the regulation on cigarettes advertising. You know, there are already many regulations in Indonesia which deal with the danger of cigarettes and the proper advertising mechanism for cigarettes. Why don't we improve these regulations instead?

Though I would love to see the banning of cigarettes in Indonesia, we need to look at a bigger picture here, as long as the benefit of having cigarettes industry in Indonesia is higher than the costs of having such industry, there would never be an end to the Indonesian cigarettes industry. The case becomes more difficult since the benefit of having the industry is easier to calculate, i.e. the amount of Government income from cigarettes duty and levies, the huge income of most of the cigarettes companies, and the amount of worker which are involved in this industry, compared to the costs of having such industry, i.e. bad development for the youth and public health which is very hard to calculate.

If we really want to prevent people from smoking in Indonesia, I would suggest that rather than prohibiting the development of the business which may also negatively affect the whole economy, we should build an industry which can provide the substitution of cigarettes in a more efficient way and can be easily accessed by all people, such as chewing gum or therapic medicines. If the Government really cares with the quality of life of its citizens, it can encourage the development of this cigarettes substitution industry by providing some incentives such as tax cut, subsidy, easier licensing, etc. Of course continuing education for the people on the danger of smoking would be always needed.

We can also use one of the most famous legal principle, i.e. people must be responsible for the externalities of their acts, or in a less complicated way, if you cause loss to other people, you need to be responsible to such loss and pay the damages. To certain extent, this has been reflected in our current regulation on cigarettes, i.e. this industry pays a huge amount of money to the Government in the form of tax and duties in order to run their business. Further discussion can be made on what kind of policy that need to be established in order to implement this principle.

In the end, our goal here is to replace the cigarettes industry through several stages in order to ensure that the transition would be smooth and would not adversely affect our economy. Remember, there are many stakeholders in this industry, and there is no easy answer when dealing with cigarettes industry. Let us hope that we can find a better solution in the future.

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