Thousands of tobacco farmers from six provinces staged a two-day rally in Jakarta to protest proposed legislation they say could destroy their livelihoods. More than 7,000 farmers gathered in front of several ministry buildings for the protest, which ended yesterday, to oppose a bill that seeks to curb cigarette advertising, promote smoke-free zones and require graphic warning labels on packaging. “The government keeps frightening us by introducing tobacco regulations. It also means the government is trying to destroy our lives,” said Sulis Manto, a farmer from Temanggung district in Central Java province. The rally was coordinated by the National Coalition for Cigarette Savers and the Association of Indonesian Tobacco Farmers. The late health minister, Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, who died of lung cancer in May, introduced a draft of the bill in April. Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar last month urged lawmakers to delay implementation of the bill, saying half a million could face job losses, according to a report by the Jakarta Globe. Lawmakers expect the bill to pass some time this month, the report added. Emil Agustiono, deputy coordinating minister for people’s welfare in health, population and family planning, told protesters that the bill aimed to safeguard health and not hurt farmers. “There is no smoking ban or restrictions for farmers to plant tobacco and for people to sell cigarettes,” he said, adding that he would convey protesters’ concerns to the Health Ministry. Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi has previously expressed support for the bill. “This [bill] is a sensitive and complex issue indeed, but we cannot tolerate it as [tobacco] has a bad impact on women and children.” The World Health organization has called tobacco use “one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced.” According to a WHO factsheet issued in May, “Tobacco kills nearly six million people each year, of whom more than five million are users and ex-users and more than 600,000 are nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke.” Farmer Sulis Manto said he was aware of research that smoking was a contributing factor to millions of deaths each year but that he did not believe the reports were completely accurate. Almost all tobacco farmers in his village are smokers and live many years, he said. “So don’t say that smokers would die sooner than those who don’t smoke,” he said. “The government may say that smoking harms people’s health. Well, it doesn’t matter. But don’t scare us with such regulations that put us on edge. The government never thinks about our lives.” Risto Moyo, a farmer from Wonosobo district, said protesters agreed to give the government 20 days to review the bill and consider their views. “If they fail, we will come to Jakarta again.”
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