POST D: Smoking, A Male Act?


Tobacco usage is a significant problem in Indonesia, as Indonesia has the 5th largest market for tobacco consumption in the world (Nichter et al. 2009) and tobacco companies are the government’s main source of revenue after oil, gas and timber (Reynolds 1999). Tobacco consumption is also highly prevalent in Ambon as exemplified by data depicting that the highest food expenditure in Ambon is rice, followed by fish, cigarette, vegetable and sugar (Girsang & Nanere 2016).

But why has tobacco remained so prominent? One major reason is that Indonesia can be referred to as an “advertiser’s paradise” due to the lack of restrictions on tobacco marketing and advertising (Nichter et al. 2009). Tobacco advertisement in Indonesia is also amid the most aggressive and innovative worldwide (Nichter et al. 2009). This is supported by my observation of the average Ambon streets, occupied by an abundance of tobacco advertisements, mostly in the form of banners and posters (Baraclough 1999, Nichter et al. 2009).

Furthermore, one notable aspect of tobacco culture in Ambon is that the clear majority of smokers I witnessed were middle-aged men. In fact, all smokers that I noticed during my mapping exercise were male. As Barraclough believes that advertising is having a “very real impact” on Indonesians who smoke (Barraclough 1999), I noticed that tobacco advertisements clearly targets the male population.

Figure 1: group of men sitting and smoking on the streets of Ambon

As I walked around the city, I noticed that Indonesian tobacco advertisements, both on banners and packaging often incorporate themes of masculinity and individuality (Barraclough 1999) by utilising bold imagery, fonts, colours and other design choices. The common colour-scheme used is red, black and white with some brands selecting blue. Nichter believes that key themes of the Indonesian tobacco advertisement include the controlling of emotions, depicting smoking as a tool to enhance masculinity and uphold traditional values while simultaneously highlighting modernity (Nichter et al 2009).

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Figure 2: series of tobacco advertisements displayed on the streets of Ambon

Women on the other hand are instead discouraged to smoke, made evident by the lack of tobacco advertising directly targeting women (Barraclough 1999). Thus, the lack of women I witnessed smoking was due to cultural values which stigmatise women smokers as morally flawed whilst simultaneously endorsing smoking by their male counterparts (Barraclough 1999). As it is not culturally acceptable for Indonesian women to smoke, women therefore rarely smoke, apart from women deemed as “bad”, wealthy women and some in Jakarta offices who take up the act as a symbol of their growing independence (Barraclough 1999).

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Figure 3: the map I created from my walk / mapping exercise



Barraclough, S. 1999, ‘Women and tobacco in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 327-332.

Girsang, W. & Nanere, M. 2016, ‘Profiles and causes of urban poverty in small islands: a case in Ambon City, Maluku Islands Indonesia’, International Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 18-27.

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Danardono, M., Ng, N., Prabandari, Y. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 98-107.

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