How advocacy defeated the organisers of Inter-tabac ASIA

28 Feb 2014

Located in Germany and owned by the city of Dortmund, the exhibition corporation Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH had planned to hold the tobacco trade fair Inter-tabac ASIA 2014 in Bali, Indonesia.

But last Friday, Westfalenhallen Dortmund GmbH had to back down.

Despite massive international protest in previous weeks, the corporation had insisted that the trade fair would go ahead. Instead, it was taught a lesson: the Bali police withdrew the permit and Westfalenhallen had to cancel the tobacco trade fair less than a week before it was scheduled to start. This is a huge success for an international protest movement born barely three months ago!

No FCTC, but strong civil society

Big Tobacco perceives Indonesia as a “booming market in Asia”. Smoking prevalence is high (tobacco use among males exceeds 60 percent) and there is huge potential for profits from tobacco sales. Additionally, Indonesia is not (yet) a party to the FCTC.

These factors made Westfalenhallen choose Bali as the location for Inter-tabac ASIA 2014. Immediate goals were to offer the tobacco industry a platform for “networking at the highest level, interexchange of the industry, contract preparations and conclusions” to open up the market.But the industry didn’t anticipate three things:

  1. A strong civil society in Indonesia that is aware of the dangers of smoking and dedicated to protect its children from the grip of the tobacco industry;
  2. An international tobacco control movement that is interested and willing to support Indonesian activists;
  3. Online campaign tools that can be used to quickly and effectively raise awareness at the international level.

Simultaneous actions

In Indonesia, a broad alliance joined the fight: non-government organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations (CSOs), Udayana University in Bali, health offices, police departments, the Bali Hotel Association, local media and the Ministry of Health itself.

Tobacco control advocates, especially from Indonesia Bebas Rokok, the Tobacco Control Support Centre and Bali Tobacco Control Initiative, held press conferences, demonstrations and personal meetings that brought the case to public attention.

Indonesian actors were backed by governments from Southeast Asia, including Nepal and East Timor, and NGOs such as the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

Activities were supported by the international tobacco control movement, channelled by the Dortmund Kills campaign, which exploited the potential of web 2.0.

Starting with an international, three language petition on (12,400 signatures), the campaign gained momentum in mid-January, when we used a photo petition directed at the Governor of Bali’s social media channels, pressuring him to stop the fair.

Important information on developments were quickly spread widely via Facebook – the Dortmund Kills as well as Facebook groups of tobacco control advocates such as the Global Tobacco Control Network.

Key to success

The key to our success? We operated collectively at all levels simultaneously and achieved great international collaboration, reflected in more than 20 open letters supporting our cause.

Actors tackled the receiving end of the problem in Bali as well as the originating end in Dortmund. At the same time, we were able to expose the case at the international level very quickly.

As part of the Dortmund Kills campaign, I take the opportunity to thank all of you who supported the case and responded to our calls for action.

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