A More Personal Perspective

As I have talked about in other blog posts I am tremendously curious on trying to understand why people choose to engage with tobacco use and how this various across different cultures. Academic papers were a great start but during my time in Indonesia it was talking to the people that yielded the biggest insights for me. 

A photo of our jeep driver on our journey to Mount Bromo. What influenced this mans decision to smoke while driving?

Before our first day with the ITS students I was doing some reading about the student role within Indonesia since it appears to quite a critical time for smokers. Studies show that smoking increases from 19.8% for 11 year olds to 53% for 17 year olds (Smet, B 1999). This is a time where students begin to have many more external influencers as to previously deriving most of their outlook on the world from parental figures and a comparatively small environment. 

It’s interesting comparing these statistics to the role Indonesian youth plays in the political system. “Student organisations have been splintered, their traditions confused. Their political activity, moreover, has long reflected the strong outside influence of the established political forces in the country” (P, Lyman 1965). We know in other cultures such as Iran tobacco has been a way of youthful rebellion (E, Batmanghelidj n.d) so perhaps it might be here to – due to the youth being unable to express themselves of advocate for change politically. While these are older papers, it might even give more insight into the social foundation current Indonesia is stemming from. 

This all started coming together upon talking to an Indonesian Chef who told me he started smoking at age 15 with his friends to rebel. He said it wasn’t even against any particular figure or group – but against some of the culture itself. 

The most in depth conversation I had however was with Alya, an ITS student from Indonesia. This conversation for me, yielded far more results than any of the reading I had done so far – and she hardly even touched on Tobacco. Alya explained her life story to me growing up in Indonesia. She explained how oppressed she felt due to the religious, political and social factors growing up. When I asked her about oppression in Indonesian she simply said – “I think both Indonesian culture and muslim religion is oppressive. I See things from a lot of different cultures and I feel like I can’t be myself.”

Alya (middle).

Being such a complex issue, I don’t want to simmer down tobacco in Indonesian youth down to feelings of oppression. Oppression isn’t obvious to the average observers eye, and I’m happy having left Indonesia with newfound insights. From my research here, I’m lead to believe that addressing how a more westernised youth trying to adapt to Indonesian culture is influencing a “Tobacco Rebellion”. 



Smet B, Maes L, De Clercq L, et al Determinants of smoking behaviour among adolescents in Semarang, Indonesia Tobacco Control 1999;8:186-191.

Lyman, Princeton N. “Students and Politics in Indonesia and Korea.” Pacific Affairs 38, no. 3/4 (1965): 282-93.

Batmanghelidj, Esfandyar. “Smoking in Iran.” Encyclopedia Iranica. Center for Iranian Studies, Columbia University. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/smoking-in-iran. [Accessed 16 Dec. 2018].

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