Post D: Indonesia’s Omnipresent Tobacco Culture

Traces of tobacco exist in every crevice of Ambon: used cigarette butts discarded on the sidewalk; empty cigarette packets floating in the river; Ambonese men smoking along the streets; and the smell of tobacco wafting through the air – all constant reminders of tobacco’s long history in Indonesia, rich with cultural symbolism and associations that existed before the advent of advertising (Reynolds 1999). Perhaps the most jarring, and arguably the most noticeable, aspect of tobacco culture is the plethora of tobacco advertising that densely saturates the Indonesian landscape.

Hand-drawn map of a walk in Ambon observing tobacco advertisements

On a short walk around Ambon – through quiet residential areas, the bustling market, and busy main roads – it is quickly evident that one can barely walk a few metres without seeing cigarette advertisements plastered on cloth banners, wall posters or big billboards (Nichter et al. 2009).

Photographs taken during a walk around Ambon, Indonesia

The frequency in which these tobacco advertisements appear is appalling, and Indonesia’s alarming smoking statistics can in part be attributed to the aggressive and innovative cigarette marketing prevalent in Ambon and other parts of Indonesia (Nichter et al. 2009). In the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java, tobacco billboards are displayed prominently, and most small kiosks and shops are covered with tobacco advertisements – which concurs with the advertising landscape in Ambon as well, as seen from the images above (Nichter et al. 2009). Similarly, in Denpasar, Bali, it was found that 7 out of 10 retailers displayed at least one banner promoting cigarette products (Astuti & Freeman 2018). The combination of persistent advertising and readily available and affordable cigarettes, among other social and cultural factors, has resulted in over 62% of Indonesian males smoking regularly, and boys as young as 10-years-old beginning to smoke (Achadi, Soerojo & Barber 2005).

Although the dense saturation of tobacco advertising in Indonesia is shocking to witness, the most worrying aspect, however, is how these advertisements are seamlessly integrated into the Indonesian landscape and tobacco becomes synonymous with Indonesian culture. As a foreigner visiting Indonesia for the first time and experiencing culture shock from being bombarded with tobacco advertising, the imagery and slogans have started to blend into the environment and I have begun to accept that tobacco culture is a norm in Indonesia. Considering my own firsthand experience, I could only imagine that the local Indonesians have also accepted tobacco as a normality and are not fazed by the saturation of tobacco advertisements – tobacco is so deeply engrained in the fabric of Indonesian culture that the advertisements seemingly belong in front of houses and kiosk shops. Indigenous cigarette advertising exploits and manipulates Indonesian cultural values to promote smoking, and when published en masse, can create a natural association between desirable lifestyle attributes and tobacco – cultivating beliefs and habits in favour of tobacco that has proven, and will continue, to be extremely difficult to alter (Reynolds 1999).


Achadi, A., Soerojo, W. & Barber, S. 2005, ‘The relevance and prospects of advancing tobacco control in Indonesia’, Health Policy, vol. 72, no. 3, pp. 333-349.

Astuti, P. & Freeman, B. 2018, Protecting young Indonesian hearts from tobacco, The Conversation, viewed 20 January 2019, <;.

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Danardono, M., Ng, N., Prabandari, Y. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 18, pp. 98-107.

Reynolds, C. 1999, ‘Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, pp. 85-88.

Post D: Tobacco & Advertising

With a “67% prevalence of males aged 15 and above being smokers” (Prabandari & Dewi 2016) and tobacco companies being the “government’s largest source of revenue after oil, gas and timber, and the nation’s second largest employer after the government” (Reynolds 1999), it is clear how ingrained the tobacco industry has become within Indonesia.  Even within the more remote city of Ambon, there are men waiting around whilst smoking or even smoking whilst driving, showing just how deeply smoking culture has seeped into their daily lives.   

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Post D: Raise Them Young

In 2013, it was estimated that 41% of boys and 3.5% of girls between the ages of 13-15 are smokers in Indonesia (Webster 2013, p. 97). These figures are trending upwards (Astuti & Freedman 2017, p. 1). Yet the sale of cigarettes to minors under the age of 18 is illegal, and I discovered in my interview with a local restaurant owner that parents don’t actively encourage their children to take up the habit (Astuti & Freedman 2017, p. 2). So what is it that instigates youth smoking in Indonesia?

During my time in Ambon, I have come across a primary school, high school and university campus, from various sides of the city. I noticed that each institution’s location had something in common: A very high saturation of tobacco endorsements and points of sale.

Map illustrating the relationship between student foot traffic and tobacco exposure points across three major institutions along the main road.

As illustrated in the map, exposure to advertisements is unavoidable as they infringe on student’s paths to and from institutions. Young children see them on their way to and from primary school; adolescents see them around high schools. The university that I visited even had a huge GG Move Duo Filter billboard directly outside its fence, influencing young adults.

Billboard advertising smoking outside the perimeter of Universitas Pattimura

There is a direct correlation between exposure to endorsement and smoking initiation (Prabandari & Dewi 2016, p.7). In 2007, roughly 80% of youths reported exposure to billboards and print advertisement promoting tobacco products (Prabandari & Dewi 2016, p.2).

The irony here is that the tobacco industry claims that they do not target youth. However in a 2016 study of Indonesian high school students’ perceptions of cigarette ads, it was found that 55.79% of participants believed that the target audience of tobacco advertisements was the youth population (Prabandari & Dewi 2016, p.5).

Beyond media advertisements, other promotional strategies include merchandise and samples. In a survey spanning a range of Indonesian students, 9% reported owning an object featuring tobacco branding, and 7.9% were shockingly offered free samples. This is despite bans on merchandise production and handing out free products to students. From these points of research, it is clear that relentless advertising is a significant contributing factor to the increasing issue of youth smoking (WHO 2014, p. 32).

Of course, advertisement isn’t the only curse influencing youth smoking. There’s a significant lack of awareness of the harmful effects; the formal school curriculum, as of 2014, has a very limited coverage of the adverse effects of tobacco products (WHO 2014, p. 35). Since 70% of households contain smokers, children and adolescents are influenced by smoking culture from their families and friends as well (Padmawatil et al 2018, p. 1).

My journey along the main road of Jl. Jenderal Sudirman seems to be the journey of the majority of Ambonese adolescents. Just like how the blatant tobacco advertisements and points of sale dominate the streets winding past educational institutes- from primary school to adulthood, children in this society are raised by the underlying stench of tobacco culture.


Astuti, P. A. S. & Freeman, B. 2017, ‘“It is merely a paper tiger.” Battle for increased tobacco advertising regulation in Indonesia: content analysis of news articles’, BMJ Open, vol. 7, no. 9, pp 1-9.

Padmawatil, R. S., Prabandari, Y. S., Istiyani, T., Nichter, M., Nichter, M. 2018, ‘Establishing a community-based smoke-free homes movement in Indonesia’, Tobacco Prevention and Cessation, vol 4, no. 36, pp. 1-10.

Prabandari, S. Y & Dewi, A. 2016, ‘How do Indonesian youth perceive cigarette advertising? A cross-sectional study among Indonesian high school students’, Global Health Action, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-14.

Webster, P. C. 2013, ‘Indonesia: The tobacco industry’s “Disneyland”’, CMAJ, vol. 185, no. 2, pp. 97-98.

World Health Organisation, 2014, Global Youth Tobacco Survey: Indonesia Report, SEARO, Delhi, India, viewed 17 January 2019, <;.

Post D: Tobacco culture in Ambon

Tobacco advertising in Ambon is something that is glamorised much more than what we are traditionally used to seeing in Sydney. Aggressively pro smoking adverts marketing to create a strong appeal for their products, and interestingly enough the advertising prevalent in Ambon City was quite plainly pitching to men. This theory was supported after embarking on my self guided tour (See below map) of the city as well as supported research.

Hand drawn map of self guided city tour

With it’s large population Indonesia ranks fifth among countries with the highest tobacco consumption globally (Achadi et al., 2004). However the number of female smokers across Indonesia is considerably low in comparison to male smokers (Barraclough, 1999). Indonesia’s national household health survey found that in 2013, 57% of men were active smokers and that they are far more likely to be smokers than women (Rosemary, 2018), with only 1% to 3% of women being active smokers or likely to smoke (Nitcher et al., 2008).

The Tobacco companies are politically and financially powerful within Indonesia because they are one of the largest sources of government revenue (Reynolds, 1999). As a result, there are very few advert restrictions on tobacco marketing (Nitcher et al., 2008). Not only that but study shows kretek tobacco (Cigarettes made with a blend of tobacco, cloves and other flavours) companies represent themselves as supporters of Indonesian national identity (Nitcher et al., 2008), which further deeply embeds them into Indonesian and Ambonese culture.

Upon the self guided tour in which I embarked on multiple different modes of transportation (Bus, Car, and Foot). The research acquired across the modes of travel were consolidated and left very clear findings, a tally method (See Figure 1) was used to record three main items – Adverts Relating to Tobacco, Male Smokers, and finally Female Smokers.

Figure 1, Counter App (Koithra, 2019).

Tobacco advertisement slogans that were noted on the self guided city tour include;
Sampoerna’s “Go ahead”, L.A. Bold “We are stronger”, Gudang Garam “Real men have taste, test your limits go international”, and lastly Surya “Pro never quit”.
Other popularised tobacco brands include Djarum Super MLD and Malboro. 

In Ambon the advertising themes that were identified in tobacco marketing include smoking to enhance ones sense of masculinity whilst also highlighting modernity and globalisation ((Ng et al., 2007). Common company adverts for example Surya, it’s local branding are mostly coupled with very overcompensated images representing ‘manliness’, most commonly the “Pro never quit’. as seen in figure 2, it displays a man clearly expressing his strength and this image is being linked to smoking the advertised brand.

Figure 2, Suraya Smoking Advertisment (Koithra, 2019).

Another feature to note is that all these advertisements shared the exact same caution message of “peringatan: merokok membunuhmu 18+” which translates simply to warning: smoking kills you 18+”. This coupled with an image of a man smoking and several faint floating skulls, eluding to smoking being a deadly trait. Refer to Figure 3 below.

Figure 3, Caution message (Koithra 2019).

More than just male targeted tobacco advertisements, in local supermarkets there are products which very plainly accomodate for and support the smoking demographic within Ambon. Products such as ‘FREZZA, After Cigar Antispetic Mouth Spray – reduce bad breath caused by smoking’. Other products include a wide spectrum of cigarette accessories such as lighters, cigar cutters, and smoking car accessories. All which support and accomodate the manifesting culture of tobacco use in Ambon.

Foodmart Ambon Plaza (Koithra, 2019).


Catherine, R. (1999). Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”, BMJ Journals,viewed 16 January 2019.

Barraclough, S. (1999). Women and tobacco in Indonesia, BMJ Journals, viewed 16 January 2019.

Rosemary, R. (2018). Forbidden Smoke, Inside Indonesia, viewed 16 January 2019.

Nitcher, M., Padmawati, S., Danardono, M., Prabandari, Y., Nitcher, M. (2008). Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, BMJ Journals, viewed 16 January 2019.

Achadi, A., Soerojo, W., Barber, S. (2004). The relevance and prospects of advancing tobacco control in Indonesia, Science Direct, viewed 17 January 2019.

Ng, N., Weinehall, L., Ohman, A. (2007). ’If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’-Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking. NCBI, viewed 17 January 2019.

Post D: The Plague of Tobacco Advertising

Indonesia the highest smoking rates for males and the second biggest market for tobacco in the world (Tjandra 2018). Lack of support for tobacco control from the Indonesian government means that tobacco companies hold substantial power politically and financially in marketing their products. This was clearly seen on my walk around the local area in Ambon as tobacco advertisements were spotted at almost every corner on my journey from the main road near the hotel to more the suburban areas. They appeared in forms of posters, banners, billboards, on bins and even on vehicles. It was no surprise to find out that tobacco advertising in Indonesia is considered the most aggressive and innovating in the world (Danadarono et al 2009).

Mapping the frequency of tobacco advertisements on main roads and suburban areas. The red “x” indicates where advertisements were spotted.

While exploring the neighbourhood near the hotel, it was very apparent that the smokers that I came across were all males. I observed that they were either standing by the streets, sitting on motorbikes or loitering in small groups around stores. This resonates with the WHO Report on global tobacco epidemic which reveals that 65% of adult men in Indonesia smoke while only 2% of females smoke (World Health Organisation 2017). I thought perhaps there was a link between the main demographics of smokers being males to the aggressive advertising of tobacco.  

Through my walk from the main roads to the more suburban areas of Ambon, I found the frequency of tobacco advertisements were high around the main roads and lower in the suburban areas.  I rarely saw the same frequency of advertising for other products and services in the area. It’s as if you can’t escape from tobacco advertisements with one or even multiple popping up at every store, wall or pole you pass by. I observed the content of advertisements contained English slogans such as “Never quit” or “We are Stronger” usually paired with imagery of men doing “masculine” or “cool” things. I found in my research that the key theme of these advertisements is to do with enhancing masculinity through smoking (Danadaro et al 2009). I thought that was an interesting aspect of culture here, the idea of smoking as a desirable image linked to “being a man”. It seems that Indonesian men know the health risks of smoking but the message tying masculinity to smoking has led to a massive increase in smoking among these classes (Schewe 2017).

Tobacco culture thrives through advertising locally in Ambon and nationally as Indonesia is the only country in Asia that has not signed the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (Tjandra 2018). It’s disheartening to see a city so colourful and diverse plagued with the advertising of tobacco at every corner.


Danardono, M. Nichter, Ma. Nichter, M.  Ng, N. Padmawati, S. Prabandari, Y. 2009, Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, Tobacco Control, viewed 15th January 2019 <>

Schewe E. 2017, Why do so many Indonesian men smoke?, JSTOR Daily, viewed 15th January 2019 <>

Tjandra, N. 2018, Indonesia’s lax smoking laws are helping next generation to get hooked, The Jakarta Post, viewed 15th January 2019 <>

Report on the global tobacco epidemic 2017, World Health Organisation,  viewed 15th January 2019 <>

Post D: Women’s Role In this Viscous Cycle of Tobacco Addiction

One of the basic situationist practices is the dérive (drifting), a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiences. Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of pyschogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.”  (Debord, 1956)

The idea of walking around aimlessly is a design technique which encourages one to take more notice of their surroundings as indicated by Debord’s Theory of the Dérive (Debord, 1956). To truly take in and understand the city of Ambon, a similar action is needed to be carried out. The direction and focus of this dérive was on tobacco and its relation to culture. Whilst getting lost, the most notable characteristic involved every street or alley way that housed at least one little convenient store. With the owner usually hidden behind the counter or relaxing on the fence out front watching people as they passed by, each of these stores contained a glass box, filled with various cigarette brands.

The tobacco industry is one of the largest industries in Indonesia, which also offers the second most employment after the government (Reynolds, 1999). Majority of labourers in tobacco factories are female because men are more involved with trade unions and tend to strike which can hold back production (Marwati, 2016). While walking I did not come across a single female smoker and during an interview with one of the hotel staff, he mentioned there was only one female worker who smoked. Smoking is an inescapable part of Indonesian culture, their male friends, husbands, fathers and brothers smoke but it is still culturally unacceptable for women to smoke. According to a survey carried out in 2016, there are 2.1% females and 64.9% males who smoke in Indonesia (WHO, 2017) which reflects my observations made while ‘drifting’.

final map-01

The above map of Ambon city, displays all the stores I walked past that sold tobacco products. The dots represent the female vendors whilst the cross sign symbolises the male owners; through first hand investigation it is evident that, predominantly females sell cigarettes. Moreover, they were simultaneously looking after their children whilst working, this demonstrates how women passively feed into the cycle of tobacco consumption and young children watch as their mothers say ‘ok’.

In Indonesian culture, it is nearly impossible for women to escape tobacco culture, making them vulnerable to passive smoke related diseases and are at risk of becoming a single parent if their spouse becomes sick due to their addiction (Rosemary, 2018). Women make and sell these products, and are put in a difficult position, passively contributing to the tobacco culture and are expected to act virtuous for the sake of their pregnancy but inevitably are exposed to it in the end.

Reference List

Debord, G. 1956,  Theory of the Dérive and other situationist writings on the city, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona: Distribution, ACTAR, Barcelona.

Marwati, 2016, Gender Dynamics in Tobacco Industry in Indonesia, University Gadjah Mada, viewed 17 January 2019, <>.

Reynolds, C. 1999, Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”, Tobacco Control, vol 8, no 1, pp.85-88.

Rosemary, R. 2018, Forbidden Smoke, Inside Indonesia, viewed 17 January 2019, <>.

World Health Organisation 2017, WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2017, Country Profile Indonesia, Switzerland.