The widespread use of tobacco in Indonesia was clearly evident when walking the streets of Banjarmasin and one observation that could be made immediately was the abundance of men smoking and the lack of women. This posed the question of why that was the case thus I conducted an interview with female university student, Kiki (22), who provided insightful answers on her personal thoughts regarding the role of gender in the smoking culture of Indonesia.
Kiki stated that the main reason as to why men start to smoke is for the style and to appear ‘cool’ which outweighs the negative impact of cigarettes on their health and to those around them. She mentioned that only the male members of her family have had experience smoking; her dad, a regular smoker who started from the young age of 15, and her brother, who started to smoke at 12 years due to the influence of his friends but stopped after she had convinced him to quit. This social pressure to smoke is also addressed in a study where participants viewed smoking as a reflection of being in a group and being a smoker among their smoking peers being a sign of solidarity (Ng et al. 2007). Kiki also mentioned that men smoke due to stress from physical labour which ties in with the idea that smoking cigarettes presumably symbolizes masculinity; thus, many people associate it with the ‘male sphere’. In contrast, many consider smoking among women and girls impolite and ill-mannered (Leutge & Tandilittin 2013).
She mentioned that women who smoke are deemed irresponsible by society as most women will bear children in the future and thus have a responsibility to take care of their health. A majority of males believe in this idea as a 14-year-old states, “I wouldn’t want my girlfriend to ever smoke. Women have babies and if they smoke then that’s bad for the baby,” as well as many men citing it as “too unhealthy, dangerous and bad” (Hodal 2012). Being a well-recognised custom in Indonesia for women to be non-smokers, Kiki also touched on how women who choose to smoke are considered rebellious and daring. The acts of Indonesian women who choose to smoke parallel the established idea that the newfound freedom and higher status of women promote the undesirable behavior of smoking (Pampel 2001).
Conducting this interview with Kiki and following it up with secondary research reinforced the theory that gender plays a significant role in the growing smoking epidemic in Indonesia. The masculine qualities associated with smoking and the social stigma against female smokers greatly contribute to the stark difference in the number of smokers of each gender. However an increasing number of women who decide to rebel against social norms may result in the closing of the gap.
Beawiharta. 2017, An Indonesian man smokes a cigarette during a protest near South Jakarta court in Jakarta, Reuters, viewed 24 January 2018, <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-tobacco/indonesia-tobacco-bill-would-open-tap-for-ads-aimed-at-kids-health-official-says-idUSKBN18S47O>.
Farahdiba. 2009, Mom and baby in urban slum area Jakarta, Flickr, viewed 24 January 2018, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/60592378@N06/5587704950>.
Ng, N., Weinehall, L. & Öhman, A. 2007, ‘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.
Hodal, K. 2012, ‘Indonesia’s smoking epidemic – an old problem getting younger’, The Guardian, 22 March, viewed 24 January 2018, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/mar/22/indonesias-smoking-epidemic>.
Pampel, F. 2001, ‘Cigarette Diffusion and Sex Differences in Smoking’, Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, vol. 42, no. 4, pp. 388-404.
Luetge, C. & Tandilittin, H. 2013, ‘Civil Society and Tobacco Control in Indonesia: The Last Resort’, The Open Ethics Journal, vol. 7, pp. 11-18.