My interview was conducted in the process of researching the complex matrix of social beliefs about smoking among university students in Surabaya. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk to Neesa, a university student from ITS who also happened to be from the small but expanding percentage of the population who are young female smokers. We had talked to a few of Neesa’s peers prior to this interview and they had offered perspectives of smoking in line with the narratives we had found readily available in academic research, those of smoking being a stigmatised behaviour among women with allusions to prostitution, antisocial behaviour and rebellion against the Indonesian way of life. The perspective of most of the peers was that smoking was harmful, wrong and they could not understand why people would begin to smoke in spite of all these facts.
Neesa offered a different perspective, we were given an insight into the movement towards modern Indonesia with her opinion of the freedom that young women are embracing to engage in behaviours which have previously been stigmatised. Neesa also gave us a fascinating insight into the place of the behaviour among her peers, she stated that as a freshman at university her senior students offered her cigarettes during the first ‘hazing’ week stating that she and her peers would need them to cope with the stress of university life. The ritual of smoking has taken a place in her life which appears to mirror this suggestion from her elder students as her current smoking practice tends to be in the afternoon post university where she will meet up with her friends to smoke and unwind.
One of the areas we talked about at length was about the understanding of health effects of smoking and how she believes her smoking affects how others view her. She said that she is aware of the health effects but is not able to quit because she would have nothing to take smoking’s place as a means of relaxing. An interesting statistic recorded in the WHO report on Indonesia showed that only “9.5% of daily smokers are successful in quitting” which is astonishingly low (2018). It was interesting to hear this as it showed a clear understanding of the risks she was taking in continuing to smoke and yet she was adamant that smoking was crucial to her success at university. We can see this reflected in the data, it has been published that “Up to one-half of the 57 million smokers in Indonesia today will die of tobacco-related illnesses. Some 78 percent of Indonesians started smoking before the age of 19 years.” (Barber Et. Al. 2008). This data is free to download and readily available as well as having been released in government education campaigns and yet even highly intelligent and educated individuals such as Neesa maintain their smoking habit for various social reasons.
Barber. S., Adioetomo. S., Ahsan. A., Setyonnaluri. 2008. Tobacco Economics in Indonesia. Bloomberg Philanthropies. 978-2-914365-40-6.
WHO. 2018. Factsheet 2018 – Indonesia. WHO Office for South-East Asia. Viewed 13 Dec 2018. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/272673/wntd_2018_indonesia_fs.pdf;jsessionid=98444EFF9BF4C980BF238B9BFFE3EF9D?sequence=1