Blog post D: Smoking for the economy, work environment and social interactions.


As we explored the intricate ins and outs of Surabaya, tobacco smoke clouded the air, proving smoking is not only a region-wide habit, but is embedded in the culture and the environment. With each turn of a street, the significance and prevalence of smoking changed dependent on international cultural influences, whether it be Arabic, European or Chinese (Silvia 2016). Furthermore, the values inherent in tobacco use change significantly as we walk along the street, observing and dissolving into the various settings from social, working, leisure and religious contexts.

The house of Sampoerna is one of the largest cigarette factories, displaying the history and growth of the 234 tobacco brand, since it was established by Liem Seeng Tee in 1932 (House of Sampoerna 2004).  Within the compound, hundreds of women are employed as factory workers, each working from 6am to 1pm, to return home afterwards and care for their children as they finish school. Each worker is given a role in the factory – rolling, trimming or packing the cigarettes. The factory provides women with a safe working environment and a generous income – enough to afford to send their children to university. Within this area on our journey, tobacco holds significance as a workplace that is essential, and one of the many tobacco factories in Indonesia that underpin the countries economy.

As we journeyed through the fish markets, stall owners sat on cardboard boxes or stools, smoking a cigarette as they wait for customers to walk through. Although the environment is loud and polluted with people, the stall owners appear relaxed and stationary as they smoke. Cigarettes are welcomed in their work environment, similarly with almost all of the workers we observed through our Surabaya journey. Painters smoked as they climbed scaffolding to paint the colourful fronts of Jalan Panggung houses. In these contexts, smoking accompanies the people as an accessory to their work environment, providing them with stress relief and a relaxed space.


(New, R 2018)

The social value in smoking can be seen in almost every space of Surabaya, as clusters of locals are scattered throughout, smoking and spending time together in a very casual way. The social significance is extremely prevalent in coffee houses. The warerkop sakam is a particularly popular coffee house – a place where locals gather for the inexpensive coffee in a space to socialise and smoke. Similar to most coffee houses, men occupied the warerkop sakam, filling the space with cigarette smoke as they chatted and drank coffee.


Silvia, A 2016, Europe Quarter of Surabaya, Pamphlet, Pertigaan Map.

House of Sampoerna 2004, A dash of history – a splash of beauty, viewed 6 December 2018 <>

Chen, J.  2018, Pabean Fish Market, Surabaya, Indonesia.


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