As one of the top four tobacco consuming countries in the world (Anshari, D. 2017.), Indonesia is lagging behind in terms of control systems. (Schewe, E. 2012.) It wasn’t until I arrived in Banjarmasin that I fully understood the severity of the issue, particularly in the prevalence of youth smokers. As Vital Strategies mentioned in their presentation, the increase in youth smokers in South Kalimantan rose from “25% in 2013 to 48% in 2017”. (Vital Strategies. 2018.)
During my travels, I noticed that there are many factors that have contributed to this. For example, there were social influences like peer pressure and smoking role models such as parents and teachers. There was also heavy exposure to tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships. Even the opportunities to smoke in Indonesia were easier than Sydney. For example, people could smoke in public places like the hotel lobby. My collaborative experience in Banjarmasin, working closely with Vital Strategies led me to several opportunities to meet and interview the local community and students. This allowed me to gain insight into where exactly the tobacco issue comes from and why the issue is increasing rather than decreasing.
Gading Fajar, aged 19, is a non-smoker who works in Banjarmasin. He volunteers with a few organisations, including Vital Strategies, that aim to promote health and positive change throughout his city. I decided to interview Gading given the trend for increased smoking amongst the youth. “About 30%” (Fajar, G. 2018.) of Gading’s friends smoke, but he goes against the social norm to do this because he believes that “the new generation can make a good movement to make Banjarmasin a beautiful and healthy city” (Fajar, G.) that is “tobacco free.” (Fajar, G.) Gading would also be able to help me better understand why youth smoking has increased over the last four years in South Kalimantan.
Data from the most recent Global Youth Tobacco Survey in 2014 shows that the frequency of youth smokers aged 13 to 17 in Indonesia was 35% among boys and 3% among girls. (World Health Organisation. 2014.)
Smoking rates may be higher for young boys because “it portrays the image of potency, wisdom and bravery”. (Nawi Ng, L. Weinehall, A. & Öhman, P. 2017.) Similarly, Gading believes that smoking is more popular amongst men in Banjarmasin because “they think if you smoke it can make you more of a gentlemen and women will like you more but if a female is smoking they are seen as a bad girl.” (Fajar, G.) Gading further explained that even though his father smokes, he has never felt pressure from him to do so. However, when he hangs out with his friends who do smoke, he says he often feels “alone” (Fajar, G.) because he is “teased and laughed at.” (Fajar, G.) During our interview, he recalled one “painful” (Fajar, G.) memory of being physically hurt by his friends for choosing not to smoke. “In junior high school when I did not smoke, my friends who were smoking put out their used butt on my arm, leaving a scar”. (Fajar, G.) I believe that if organisations like Vital Strategies want to decrease youth smoking prevalence in South Kalimantan, they need to focus on breaking down the stigma that men should smoke.
One aspect of Banjarmasin I noticed that is different to Sydney is the large amounts of signage promoting tobacco products and street stores selling them. We even saw one right outside a primary school. This moment made me wonder whether these tobacco advertisements have contributed to the rise in the number of youth smokers in South Kalimantan. Gading agreed with me during our interview as he thinks that the youth believe it is “cool to smoke because there are so many tobacco advertisements, information and sponsorships in Banjarmasin.” (Fajar, G.)
I also observed that the youth in Indonesia may be encouraged to smoke as the health concerns related to smoking and second-hand smoking are not emphasised. Although the packs have small health warnings on each side, I noticed it does not appear to be enough to put people off smoking. However, Gading thinks that the health warnings on cigarette packets are strong enough because they made him realise that smoking would make him “sick.” (Fajar, G.) He is of the view that maybe some people do not “care” (Fajar, G.) about the pictures because they think “if I’m not smoking I will die, and if I’m smoking I will still die too, so it is better to smoke to death.” (Fajar, G.)
As an advocate for many smoke free initiatives, hearing Gading’s experiences of working in Banjarmasin was fascinating as it has confirmed my perspective on what smoking is like for the youth of Banjarmasin. I have understood the necessity for organisations such as Vital Strategies and volunteers like Gading to emphasise not only the positive change a smoke free environment could bring, but to also promote the detrimental effects tobacco smoke has on their surrounding community members and environment, particularly for the youth.
Anshari, D. 2017, ‘Effectiveness of Pictorial Health Warning Labels for Indonesia’s Cigarette Packages’, Doctoral Dissertation, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1, viewed 23 January 2018, <https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/4059>
Fajar, G. 2018, Interview, 19 January 2018
Nawi Ng, L. Weinehall, A. & Öhman, P. 2017, ‘If I Don’t Smoke, I’m Not A Real Man’-Indonesian Teenage Boys’ Views About Smoking’, Health Education Research, vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 794–804, viewed 23 January 2018, <https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyl104>
Nicholl, A. 2018, Cigarettes Advertised and Sold Outside of School, 08 January 2018
Nicholl, A. 2018, Gading’s Burn on Arm, 19 January 2018
Nicholl, A. 2018, Glamourised Cigarette Packaging, 08 January 2018
Schewe, E. 2012, ‘Why Do So Many Indonesian Men Smoke?’, Tobacco Control, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 306-312, viewed 23 January 2018, <https://daily.jstor.org/why-do-so-many-indonesian-men-smoke/>
Vital Strategies. 2018, ‘Ampihi Mangaramput!’, PowerPoint presentation, viewed 08 January 2018
World Health Organisation. 2014, Global Youth Tobacco Survey, Indonesia, viewed 23 January 2018, <http://www.searo.who.int/tobacco/data/ino_gyts_fs_2014.pdf>