Post D: Smoking Culture in Indonesia

Smoking is a huge element of Indonesian culture. It is difficult to identify specific local or regional areas in Indonesia where smoking is more prevalent than others – rather, smoking is an issue on a national level across the nation of islands. On a global level, the World Health Organisation (WHO) currently places Indonesia as first in the world for the highest prevalence of tobacco smoking, for males aged 15 and older (WHO 2015).

There are many possible reasons for the high rates of smoking found across Indonesia. One reason is that advertising in Indonesia is not restricted in the way it is in many other countries, such as Australia. Tobacco advertising in Indonesia is among some of the most aggressive and innovative in the world, and tobacco advertisements saturate the environment (Nichter et al. 2009). Advertisements for cigarettes – which show “fit, happy, middle-class Indonesians” (The Guardian 2012) are everywhere: “on billboards, along roads, in magazines, in newspapers and on TV” (The Guardian 2012). Tobacco companies are politically and financially powerful in the country because they are one of the largest sources of government revenue. Due to the economic value of tobacco in Indonesia, there are few restrictions on tobacco marketing and advertising (Nichter et al. 2009).

These economic benefits affect more than just advertising – they also affect anti-smoking policies and regulations in Indonesia (Nichter et al. 2009). Smoking tobacco is also not totally banned in many places (such as government facilities, indoor workplaces, restaurants and cafes). and even in places where smoke-free laws exist (such as public transport), the laws aren’t necessarily enforced (WHO 2017). In Australia, however, tobacco advertising has been banned (Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992), and smoking in ‘Commonwealth government workplaces, aircraft, airports, interstate trains, and federally registered motor coaches’ is prohibited (Allianz Australia 2017).

In Indonesia, as of 2016, 10.7% of the retail price is tax (World Health Organisation 2017)  making cigarettes very affordable. The Indonesian tobacco industry is estimated to generate $7bn in revenue for the Indonesian government every year (The Guardian 2012).
Indonesian women smoke far less than their male counterparts – a mere 3.6% of women over 15 smoke, or have smoked, compared to 76.2% of men (WHO 2015). This is cultural, as women smoking are perceived to be impolite and ill mannered (Nawi, Weinehall & Öhman 2006). Meanwhile, smoking is becoming more prevalent among younger boys.  A study among teenage boys in a rural setting in Java was undertaken to understand reason for this and found to be due to the following factors/attitudes: that smoking is a culturally internalised habit; young boys are striving to become men; that smoking, particularly clove cigarettes, is not dangerous; and that addiction is difficult to overcome. (Nawi, Weinehall & Öhman 2006)

Culturally, it appears that “if you don’t smoke, it’s like you’re not Indonesian” (The Guardian 2012). The cultural, social, and economic implications of this, however, are dire.

Sampoerna factory locations (Java)


They collectively employ about 41,900 employees to produce Sampoerna’s SKT products

(HM Sampoerna Annual Report, 2015)


Map final

Based on the top 3 most popular brands (size reflects popularity by Indonesians)

Red – Sampoerna 

Blue – Gudang Garam 

Green – Djarum



Allianz 2017, Smoking laws across Australia, viewed 5 December 2017, <>

Barber, S. Adioetomo, S.M. Ahsan, A. & Setyonaluri, D. 2008, Tobacco Economics in Indonesia. Paris: International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, viewed 7 December 2017, <>

HM Sampoerna 2015, Annual Report, viewed 2 December 2017, <>

Hodal, K. 2012, Indonesia’s smoking epidemic – an old problem getting younger, The Guardian, viewed 7 December 2017 <>

Nawi Ng, L., Weinehall, A. & Öhman 2006, ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking, Health Education Research, Volume 22, Issue 6, Pages 794–804, <>

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S. & Danardono M. 2009, Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, Tobacco Control, viewed 4 December 2017, <>

Wong, S. 2017, Cheap Cigarettes Are Winning in World’s Second-Biggest Market, Bloomberg, viewed 7 December 2017, <>

World Health Organisation 2017, WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic, viewed 4 December 2017, <>

World Health Organisation 2016, Prevalence of Tobacco Smoking, viewed 4 December 2017, <>

Senthilingam, M. 2017, Chain-smoking children: Indonesia’s ongoing tobacco epidemic, CNN, viewed 5 December 2017, <>
Stowers, C. 2009, Men smoking kreteks, the clove cigarettes indigenous to Indonesia, Panos Pictures, Artstor, viewed 7 December, <>

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