Surabaya. Amid growing demands from anti-smoking activists for tougher tobacco regulations and bans on smoking in public, cigarette lobbyists have suggested that the government apply for world heritage status for clove cigarettes.
Wahyu Hidayat, secretary general of the Association of Small-scale Clove Cigarettes Producers, said on Wednesday that clove cigarettes, known as kretek, were as much a part of Indonesian culture as batik.
While clove cigarettes can be found outside of Indonesia, kretek cigarettes originated with the Mataram sultanate in 17th century and Princess Rara Mendut, Wahyu said.
“Producing kretek cigarettes started in the era of Rara Mendut,” he said.
“The inspiration for kretek cigarettes came from here.”
Wahyu said that once kretek was registered on the World Heritage List maintained by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), he hoped it would prompt the government to pay more attention to the “ailing kretek cigarette industry.”
He said that kretek producers were struggling to compete with large cigarette manufacturers producing regular cigarettes.
“The tobacco tax is also a major burden on us,” he said.
However, Samsul Arifien, head of the East Java Agriculture Office, said the suggestion was not likely to be considered.
“Kretek cannot be compared to batik,” he said. “All levels of Indonesian society wear batik. As for kretek, must we force people to start smoking?”
I Gusti Ngurah Putra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday that the ministry had not received any requests to register kretek for Unesco world heritage status.
“However, we will welcome all cultural heritage suggestions that are registered by any citizen,” Putra said.
Indonesia is the only country in the Asia-Pacific region that has not yet ratified the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The agreement requires members to ban all tobacco advertising, including sponsorships and promotions and create no-smoking zones.
The lack of action has led activists to describe Indonesian programs to fight tobacco addiction, especially among young smokers, as the “worst in the world.”
Official data show that more than 60 percent of Indonesian men are cigarette smokers, while more than 43 million children live with smokers.
Unesco has already recognized batik, the kris (Javanese ceremonial dagger) and the angklung musical instrument as world cultural heritage items from Indonesia.