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.
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.
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, <http://www.searo.who.int/tobacco/documents/ino_gyts_report_2014.pdf>.