My interview subject is called Muh Abdillah Akbar. He is a student from UMY, and studies government system as a major. In his free time, he likes to go swimming and read novels. His favorite novel is Sophie’s World. He is currently a smoker. Question: What do you feel about the regulation of no smoking on campus? He says that he thinks it’s good to have regulations and agrees that he should smoke less. Question: what are you interested in? He says he is interested in studying different government system and relations. Question: do you see yourself quitting smoking one day? He says that he want to quit in the future. Question: are you aware of the disease that could cause by smoking? He says that he does. Question: How much do you spend on cigarettes each week? He says he doesn’t remember. Question: what do you like to do after school? He says he likes to enjoy a cigarette after a meal. Question: what do you see yourself in twenty years? He says he will become a politician. After observation, it is discovered that the problem of smoking in the city is greater than in rural areas. There are some smokers in rural areas, mostly farmers and workers but no young adults, whereas, there are many young smokers in the city. There are also many smokers in universities, which reflects what Muh had told during the interview. Statics shows people in Indonesia who receives higher education is more likely to smoke than the ones who have lower education. (2013)
Moreover, it is shown that increase tax on cigarettes would reduce the amount of one smokes because it wouldn’t be easily affordable for young adults or teenagers.(2014) During the interview, the Muh didn’t reveal how much it costs him to smoke for a week. If the tax was added on, he would not be able to afford to smoke as much as he does now. Therefore, a positive change could be make.
Kusumawardani N. 2013, ‘Socio-economic, demographic and geographic correlates of cigarette smoking among Indonesian adolescents: results from the 2013 Indonesian Basic Health Research survey’, Global Health Action, vol. 3, First, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5990951/>
To begin with, Indonesian tobacco companies are using advertising to stimulate western counterparts. (1999) There are many advertising on the side of the road to promote tobacco. Although more ambiguous than imagined, the effect is nevertheless negative. People pass by the road everyday would see those advertisement and thinking that smoking is okay because it is everywhere.
It is hard for local clinic to practice smoking free education since there are so many obstacles, which gives more space for the tobacco business and advertisement. Indonesia is considered a advertising paradise since there is hardly any regulations and restrictions involved. (2008)There are no warnings or any kind of image demonstrates the disease cause by smoking. In the section: Youth masculinity: the pleasure of the crowd and identity seeking(2008), demonstrates a way to promote smoking by encouraging young adults to find where they belong to. Usually the scene includes young men sitting around together, sharing cigarettes. Most of the young male smokers at university do follow this habit of having a cigarette after lunch or dinner at the cafeteria, and for them it is a free time to socialize and have a conversation. However, the false advertisement makes them believe that having a cigarette is a must, there are other ways to make friends and find out where they belong to. There was a campaign that made by local Indonesia designer and UTS that promotes a healthier lifestyle, and more local designers should involve in promoting anti-smoking. They can be designing some activities for the university students to have after class instead of gather around and smoke. Also, there could be education system to design and to collaborate with local clinic to help with more young smokers. The environment that created by the tobacco business is effecting health issues of Indonesian, but designers can help with the situations in many ways. There are certainly pressure coming from the government because ten percent of the income comes from tobacco business. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible to make a brighter future for Indonesia.
To begin with, there are more than 2,677,000 children and 53,767,000 adults tobacco users in Indonesia. 57.1 percent of men, 3.6 percent of women, 41 percent of bots and 3.5 percent of girls to be exact. (2017)
Tuksongo village which locates in Magelang, Central Java, contains the biggest tobacco field. The process of growing and drying tobacco requires laborers from the village, and it forms a production chain. (2018) The success once made of tobacco business continues to encourage the production. Moreover, the smoking culture had form itself by the effect of tobacco business, and it has been there for generations.
The fact that the profit of the business supports the residents’ income makes it more difficult to separate the smoking culture from Magelang. Most boys in Magelang start to smoke cigarettes at a very young age. As they first start smoking, most of their money were spent on cigarettes, and the need to smoke starts to grow a few years after. (2018) Young boys do not fully aware of the damage that cigarettes can do to their health, and they are too young and not fully-educated to realize the consequence. The value of what cigarettes represents, adulthood and masculinity, pass through generations. Therefore, it made tobacco control campaigns much more difficult to practice. (reference) It is hard to address the deadly cost of tobaccos when the business has been running for decades as well as the harmful legacy.
Moreover, Authorities are reluctant to put regulations into practice because they would face lots of dilemma and awkward situations. What they are facing are not only the smoking teenagers but a tradition that is powerful and stubborn. Therefore, instead of solve the real problem, they rather focus their energy onto putting up campaigns and advertisings that are against smoking.
Nevertheless, a group meeting of tobacco farmers are being held in Magelang on 19 November 2019. These who are involved are the famers who change their path away from tobacco industry, as they realize how much damages had smoking cost on teenagers and children. The goal is to urge the government to practice policies that would help with the situation and change people’s life in Indonesia. (2019) The current environment is that those who have low-income are spending more than they should on tobacco, and the fact that Magelang produces tobacco makes the children and teenagers have access to low-price, fresh-handed cigarettes.
In Indonesia there is a mistrust of science and government (Crosby et al. 2019). The confusion around cigarette use and whether or not it is harmful is information that Indonesians don’t fully recognise. The understanding that tobacco is a harmful substance has been blurred by designers in the industry that enables ‘tobacco companies spend over US $1 million per hour on marketing’ (Vital Strategies 2019). The tobacco industry sponsors international music events, sports events and even events aimed at children (Hodge & Rayda 2019), which uses visual material and systems that are designed to elicit an emotional response. The branding around events such as Gudang Garam Java Rockin’Land 2010 inextricably links tobacco with fun experiences.
The creative industry in Yogyakarta and surrounds is interwoven politically in designing advertising campaigns that support industry and further raising the GDP of Indonesia (Nichter et al. 2008). The industry needs creative culture makers to grow the tobacco industry’s profits and be appealing to its young consumer audience. The advertisements that I saw when I visited Yogyakarta propels the stereotype of masculinity forward in the form of physical endurance sports. The link between the advertisement’s masculine image and catch phrase ‘Pro Never Quit’ (Hodge & Rayda 2019) and the promotion of cigarettes highlights an irony that is is reflected in the culture.
Brand designs, no matter the medium, take on an influential dominance that affects cultural norms. Creative culture makers and local designers in Yogyakarta and other parts of Java design for international music events that are sponsored by the tobacco industry such as the Gudang Garam Java Rockin’Land whose main sponsor was Gudang Garam International, one of the biggest tobacco brands in Indonesia (SEATCA 2010). It aimed its advertising at young people, and even in the sponsor notes it reads the younger the better. The industry is seen a benefactor providing music and international experiences for young people, however the sinister reality is that the tobacco industry uses a marketing strategy (Eissenberg 2004) known as the Pavlovian model on them to associate pleasure and excitement with tobacco usage.
Senior art director Tegar Yudhanataru designed the branding for the Pro Never Quit advertisements in the production house of Squarebox Cinetech. The content heavily dominates Yogyakarta’s billboards, roadside stalls and television (Hodge & Rayda 2019). Pro Never Quit is a slogan that belongs to Gudang Garam’s company brand called Surya Pro. Their vision was to make their brand be viewed as a man’s perfect cigarette (jasminesubrata 2019) and now their campaign is still getting recognition because of its controversial ideologies that are misinformative and falsely lead the consumer to looking at the unattainable luxurious lifestyles advertised by tobacco companies (McCall 2014).
Crosby, A., Dunn, J.L., Aditjondro, E. & Rachfiansyah 2019, ‘Tobacco Control Is a Wicked Problem: Situating Design Responses in Yogyakarta and Banjarmasin’, She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, vol. 5, no. 4,pp. 261-84.
Eissenberg, T. 2004, ‘Measuring the emergence of tobacco dependence: the contribution of negative reinforcement models’, Addiction, vol. 99, no. s1,pp. 5-29.
“My father is a middleman of sorts in the Palm Oil Industry, they aren’t all corrupt swindlers as is commonly thought. Definitely the tobacco industry has it’s issues, as does the Palm Oil industry…”
How is it that a conversation with a sixteen year old Indonesian begins with a story recounting his peer, who at 15 years of age sadly passed away from preventable illness due to smoking, divulge into an informed perspective that details perhaps Indonesia’s most wicked problems in industries of cultivation dating back decades? The young man who will be referred to as ‘Nasa’ provides a unique outlook into the scarce regard for ethical industrial regulations that plague more than just the tobacco industry, thus suggests a more wicked set of problems that perpetuates the already controversial problem of tobacco and palm oil in Indonesia.
Nasa is very close with his father, (referred to as ‘Mr. Red’) who is an astounding figure within the Palm Oil Trade; his benevolent ethos goes against the problematic nature of palm oil cultivation, heavily criticised by western media for it’s history of deforestation (Ananthalakshmi & Chow 2019).
Having studied forestry in the late 90s, Mr. Red continued with his masters degree once Suharto’s presidential term came to an end in 1998, resulting in change of policy regarding forestry management from centralised to decentralised. As a consequence, regulations that existed or would be “implemented” in following years were often not enforced by private entities and smallholders (Indonesia – Freedom in the World 2007 2007), thus deforestation became a massive ecological issue that concerned Mr. Red. Following his masters, he was fortunate to be Invited to participate in MYRLIN, a training workshop hosted by Oxford University wherein forest yield regulation in naturally moist-tropical-forested-areas were discussed, and sustainable models were presented by Dr. Denis Adler (Adler, Baker & Wright 2002). Mr. Red would implement what he learnt from the MYRLYN workshop as a University lecturer and smallholder consultant in order to be a polarising force against his observations of corruption, negligence regarding foresting guidelines, and how this affected local communities; all of which were confirmed as a broad transnational issue in MYRLIN (ibid).
Both palm oil (Singh et al. 2013b, p. 5) and tobacco (Rondhi, Wardhono & Prakoso 2010, pp. 8-11) industries have arduous levels of processing from farm to factory: cultivation and processing segments reside largely between smallholders, middlemen and numerous processing factories (Tobacco) / mills (Crude Palm Oil); thus, similarities between both industries can begin to be observed. Mr. Red states that:
“The palm oil industry relies largely on middlemen as a primary method of transaction and logistics between the large number of independent aforementioned smallholders and varying degrees of palm oil processing plants, this leaves open the possibility for inefficiency and mismanagement, as the sheer difficulty of enforcing mandated regulations opens up the opportunity for self interested entities to exploit”
This is what I can best explain metaphorically as an “anarcho-capitalist wild-west”.
Following 1998, former President Suharto’s Industrial-Oligarchy was “decentralised”, however many industrial monopolies were prior given to his children and nepotist cronies (Freedom House, 2007). This allowed big players to remain big, often graft in their business dealings, resulting in controversial proceedings such as the case of Hutomo Putra (Tommy Suharto), who was sentenced for corruption charges, then went on the run, and ordered the assignation of the very judge who convicted him (Agloinby 2007). The ongoing result of decentralisation is corporate governance, this has both negative and positive outcomes. Mr. Red explains that “large companies and foreign corporations hold the power to dictate the value of [palm oil precursor] – FFB (Fresh Fruit Bunch)” exported by smallholders and larger plantations, similar to what was seen in Tommy Suharto’s clove monopoly dealings (ibid). This is also made worse due to the numerous processes within the chain of production of FFB into Crude Palm Oil (CPO) for commercial goods. Prices for FFB from smallholder communities are often re-negotiated by the manufacturing facilities, down to processing plants, through middlemen, and finally back to the smallholder.
“There are millions of independent smallholders, thousands of CPO mills, hundreds of refineries, and dozens of manufacturing plants. This chain of supply relegates the smallholders to the smallest cut of the profit. Independents need to be supported in the developing world, that’s where I come in.”
In 2005, MR. Red decided to start his own business delegating between smallholders and CPO mills, which later in 2007, the company would have the majority of its shares purchased by Tommy Suharto. MR. Red remained company director thereon, the refined business model saw a three way profit split: 30% to local community smallholders; 30% returned to investors; and 40% profit remained as fluid capitol within the business. This sustained the community and kept investors as well as company profit split fairly, sustaining all stages of the industry.
Mr. Red suggests that Palm Oil can be sustainable, and help in further developing Indonesia’s economy, suggestible as an alternative crop to tobacco, as renewable bi-prodicts can be utilised from palm oil processing: Palm fibre can be used as fertiliser; palm shell can be used as a substitute for coal (Singh et al. 2013a). He also states that with proper management of where the palm is cultivated, and by using less fertilisers which corrupt the soil, negative ecological effects can be spared in future sustainable cultivation (Darras et al. 2019). Lastly, Mr. Red claims that a system based on MYRLIN that can track FFB output through the processes of CPO production would greatly increase yield regulation and sustainability, this is where Mr Red’s company, along with benevolent corporate governance can save Palm Oil from scrutiny, and can bring it forward into sustainability. It is reported that the Palm Oil companies fear the fate of tobacco industries, and that perhaps it should act in similar methods to maintain an ethical yield to quell the wicked problem of tobacco (Ananthalakshmi & Chow 2019).
Currently, Mr Red manages a new business after resigning from the company owned by Mr. Suharto, his new company is a continuation of his sustainability ethos, acting as a benevolent middleman for a sustainable future for all aspects of the palm oil industry.
Thank you to “Nasa” and “Mr. Red” for sharing your valuable insights with me.
Adler, D., Baker, N. & Wright, H. 2002, Report of a Training Workshop on Methods of Yield Regulation in Moist Tropical Forest with minimal data, Oxford Forrestry Institute, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Darras, K.F.A., Corre, M.D., Formaglio, G., Tjoa, A., Potapov, A., Brambach, F., Sibhatu, K.T., Grass, I., Rubiano, A.A., Buchori, D., Drescher, J., Fardiansah, R., Hölscher, D., Irawan, B., Kneib, T., Krashevska, V., Krause, A., Kreft, H., Li, K., Maraun, M., Polle, A., Ryadin, A.R., Rembold, K., Stiegler, C., Scheu, S., Tarigan, S., Valdés-Uribe, A., Yadi, S., Tscharntke, T. & Veldkamp, E. 2019, ‘Reducing Fertilizer and Avoiding Herbicides in Oil Palm Plantations—Ecological and Economic Valuations’, Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, vol. 2, no. 65.
Singh, P., Sulaiman, O., Hashin, R., Peng, L.C. & Singh, R. 2013, ‘Using biomass residues from oil palm industry as a raw material for pulp and paper industry: potential benefits and threat to the environment’, Environmental Decelopment and Sustainability, vol. 15, pp. 367-83.
Having visited Yogyakarta, it is evident that the culture of the city is fostered through the soul of creative art which can be seen all around. From street art, independent boutique stalls for designers and numerous galleries, Jogja is a place where creativity comes to life. “Central to the island’s artistic and intellectual heritage, Yogyakartais where the Javanese language is at its purest, the arts at their brightest and its traditions at their most visible.” (Lonely Planet, 2019).
The first time I thought about the link between tobacco companies and the power that designers have, was when I was on a tour in Kali Code. My tour guide, Bayu, stopped to show us some art produced by students in the area. He said that each year the students are able to exhibit their work near Kali Code at an event sponsored by tobacco companies. This made me think of other ways that the tobacco industry has crept into the scenes of events, disguising itself as a friendly sponsor.
Such examples in the past have included the event Java Rockin’ Land, sponsored by Gudang Garam, an Indonesian cigarette company. The event also targeted school children, who “…are enticed to attend the event through special discounted ticket prices”. (SEATCA, 2010). The role of designers in helping to bring these sponsored events to life often include the creation of posters and advertisements that further the agenda of the tobacco companies.
Still not having signed the WHO FCTC, Indonesia does not need to enforce measures for tobacco control. These measures for control include: “…ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship”. (Kin, Lian & Yoon, 2010). As a result, advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies runs rampant throughout Indonesia, having a detrimental effect towards the tobacco cessation movement. A study on smoking behaviour showed that: “cigarette ads were perceived as encouraging youths to smoke”. (Dewi & Prabandari, 2016).
As designers, we can choose if we want to partake in furthering the power of the tobacco industry, or take a stand and say ‘no’. American designer, Victor Papanek, notes that “social good and moral values are very important in a designer’s practice…”. (Savvina, 2016).
Whether it be through refusing roles that are associated with tobacco industries or through our own forms of self-expression such as street art, designers can choose how they want to influence the world around them.
Dewi, A. & Prabandari Y. 2016, How do Indonesian youth perceive cigarette advertising? A cross-sectional study among Indonesian high school students, Global Health Action, vol. 9, viewed 23 December 2019,
Kin, F., Lian, T. & Yoon, Y. 2010, How the Tobacco industry circumvented ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship: Observations from selected ASEAN countries, Asian Journal of WTO and International Health Law and Policy, vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 449 – 466.
Lonely Planet, 2019, Yogyakarta, viewed 22 December 2019,
Savvina, O. 2016, Proceedings of the 2016 International Conference on Arts, Design and Contemporary Education, Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, vol. 2, viewed 23 December 2019,
The music scene in Yogyakarta is booming, and the tobacco industries who have a blatant yet denied obsession with youth advertising find this scene to be the perfect grounds to plant the seeds of their brand (Agato, AW, 2018). This includes various modes of advertising at the events through sponsorship which creates a complex relationship, as the companies are supporting the events with large payments. This helps them to exist and survive, yet markets dangerous products to the audience (Ketchell, 2018). Sponsorship usually looks like tobacco branding displayed on all festival/event posters, billboards and promo girls handing out free cigarettes. As well as online marketing in the form of website links and even through Instagram. Instagram is a problematic mode as there is no real way to bypass age restrictions, young people from all over the world are able to see the images and content through hashtags and links (Astuti, Assunta, & Freeman, 2018).
Local and international artists play at these events and it can still be unclear as to how much the musicians themselves are involved with the tobacco companies. Many deny having known the event was sponsored by tobacco industry. Kelly Clarkson visited Indonesia for a festival in 2010 and sparked media outrage when it was discovered that the concert was sponsored by tobacco brand L.A Lights. Clarkson eventually dropped the sponsorship and we can speculate whether or not she really knew about the sponsorship in the first place or if it was dropped only due to media pressure. Kelly Clarkson is not alone as many International and Australian bands still tour in Indonesia and frequent events which are sponsored by big tobacco (NBC Los Angeles 2010).
People like Kelly Clarkson are role models for many young people and they have an opportunity as creative culture makers to be a positive influence in this space. If large public figures are educated on the matter and have the power to say no to tobacco influence I their shows they have a way to positively influence their young audience. Almost all tobacco advertising plays on the ‘cool factor’ and if role models who young people define as cool, can be seen refusing the influence of tobacco this could be considered a form of design activism in the Yogyakarta region.