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Knowledge and Evidence in Public Policy

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Policy is something related to actions or decisions, but the question is, on what ground is this policy designed from? One thing to note is that in a modern governed society, there are other actors and perspectives involved in the process. It means more resources actually can be used and taken into consideration in designing policy for achieving the common outcome effectively. That is when knowledge and evidence shed light on bridging those perspectives. The evidence-based movement in modern public policy is thus the latest version of the search for usable and relevant knowledge to help address and resolve problems (Head 2008: 2). Moreover, without evidence, policymakers must fall back on intuition, ideology, or conventional wisdom – or, at best, theory alone (Banks 2009: 3). Therefore, the existence of knowledge and evidence are needed to be considered in designing a purposive policy. This essay will reflect on what knowledge and evidence used in the legislation of e-cigarette in Indonesia case and what can be improved from using comprehensive knowledge and evidence as a prominent tool that can shape better policy.

According to Indonesian Act on Excise Number 39 (2007), the excise taxation is imposed on some selected goods with particular characteristic in which

  1. the goods consumption need to be controlled,
  2. the goods distribution need to be monitored,
  3. the use of certain goods can lead to a negative impact for society and environment, and
  4. a revenue instrument need to be implemented in the name of balance and justice.

A tobacco product is categorised as one of selected goods that need to be levied with excise duty and the extension of other forms of tobacco production, by technology improvement or market preference is also included, such as e-cigarette.

E-cigarette, the most common form of Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS), are devices that do not burn or use tobacco leaves but instead vaporise a solution the user then inhales (WHO 2017). The process of which e-cigarette considered need to be regulated in Indonesia started from a historical approach of e-cigarette development over a period of time. The study included the origin of e-cigarette creation to the extent of how its form transformed over time and the legislation status comparison in most countries (IndonesianDGCE 2017). Not left behind, the government also considered about the chemical components contained in the product. From the research conducted by Indonesian Customs Laboratory in 2017, it can be seen that e-cigarette contains dangerous and toxical substances that can lead the user to suffer health condition. The research also conducted comparison studies of which countries legalise, including the implementation of policy instruments, or prohibit the consumption of e-cigarette totally.

In one hand, it is assumed bringing a potential alternative to help reduce the tendency of a smoking habit. On the other hand, the negatives play more role in considerations to restrict the consumption, such as the possibility of violating non-smoking area policy or inviting new young smoker or even creating dual use smoker. The voices of stakeholder are also needed to be taken into account to get a wider picture. Therefore, there was a meeting held in 2017 in order to get industrial actors’ perspectives related to the upcoming policy. As the result, the e-cigarette is subjected of 57% excise tax based on the government’s retail sales price.

To sum up, in order to design a policy instrument about e-cigarette legislation in Indonesia, the government has already considered knowledge and provided evidence from multiple studies and backgrounds, from historical to comparative study, medical to ideological consideration, professional to stakeholder knowledge, and also regulation approach. However, I personally think that there are still some shortfalls in designing this policy.

First of all, the government still remains as the crucial actor in public policy process as the other political elites. In a more particular sense, there are three important kinds of knowledge that are especially salient for policy which one of them is political knowledge with the purpose is the know-how, analysis and judgement of political actor which include several vital elements relevant to evidence-based policy – such as considering and adjusting strategies or tactics; undertaking agenda-setting; determining priorities; undertaking persuasion and advocacy; communicating key messages and ideological spin; and so on (Head 2008: 5).

This is the first thing I realise missing for this particular policy, political knowledge attribute. It can be seen from the case in which how government prioritise the outcome they want to achieve, whether collecting revenues or protecting society from harmful goods, particularly tobacco product. If the aim is to control the consumption of tobacco product, then why they implement the maximum amount of excise tax on e-cigarette while the duty for the more conventional form of tobacco product remains lower. It can lead to a speculation whether government’s preference is to keep the smoking habit or protect conventional tobacco industry while disadvantaging the other one. Moreover, it contradicts with what they raised in the research which is a belief that e-cigarette can help to change a smoking habit. It is said that the role of ENDS in reducing or exacerbating population-level morbidity and mortality from tobacco products remains hotly contested (Meernik et al. 2017). Therefore, the agenda-setting remains unclear.

The next thing to note in this particular case is that although the policymaker has provided a lot of information related to e-cigarette, there is a missing link I believe in the proposed data which is the statistical analysis that correlates the connection between the habit of smoking conventional tobacco product and e-cigarette trend over a period of time. This piece of information can help further consideration on which options the government should choose from. Will the trend show significant increasing figure in e-cigarette smoking habit while showing a decreasing trend in the older form of tobacco smoking habit so the possible proposition would be granting e-cigarette consumption? Or will the graph show rising number in new smoker trend while the number of conventional tobacco smoker keep increasing too so it can lead to a conclusion type of dual use smoker? If this is the case, the government probably might think to raise both conventional and modern tobacco products’ excise tax or even ban them entirely. This case can actually be taken as an opportunity to examine how scientific evidence can be used in the policy making process while both objective and subjective forms of knowledge are unclear or unavailable (Newman 2017: 2).

To conclude, the Indonesian government has imposed an instrument in term of excise tax on liquid for e-cigarette based on several considerations from multiple knowledge and evidence. However, there is still found some deficiencies due to lack of political judgement knowledge and sufficient scientific research. I personally think this is an example of what Davies, P. (2004) claimed that many research data are flawed by unclear objectives, poor research design, methodological weakness, inadequate statistical reporting and analysis, selective use of data, and conclusion that are not supported by data provided (Davies 2004: What I want to emphasis here is that policymaker might still need to provide further and more sufficient data to their consideration and relate it to what objective they want to achieve. Clear agenda-setting as a part of political knowledge is needed and might lead to clear information or data needed to support it from research-based knowledge and result in effective policy through imposing possible instrument that can bridge and accommodate all perspective included in the process.

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