As the main city and gateway to the Maluku Islands, otherwise known as the Spice Islands for the nutmeg, mace and cloves originally found there, Ambon has a long history around its oldest source of wealth, something that drew Dutch colonisers in the 17th century (Rachman 2016). Cloves, having medicinal properties and use as a food preservative, have been valued around the world, with clove-based oils being used as a natural analgesic for toothaches, an antiseptic for aquarium fish, and in teas as an anti-flatulent (Rachman 2016).
This country wouldn’t be a nation without cloves.
– Siman Matakupan (Rachman 2016)
One aspect of tobacco culture that initially might go unnoticed to a foreigner visiting Ambon and Indonesia as a whole is the presence of kretek, indigenous clove cigarettes. In every cigarette display at the counter, clove cigarettes make up the majority of options available, indicating a preference of the locals towards the more fragrant choice. Statistics from Tobacco Control, London (Hurt et al. 2012) show that kreteks account for over 92% of the retail sales volume of cigarettes in Indonesia. Rachman (2016) writes about Ambon, “The scent of cloves, wrapped up and smoked in cigarettes, has long permeated daily life in this archipelago, from urban cafes to far-flung tropical spice islands like this one.” One of the key themes in advertising involves smoking as a means to uphold traditional values whilst at the same time emphasising modernity and globalisation (Nichter 2009), indicating how smoking culture in Indonesia relates to their identity involving traditional spices.
Map of tobacco culture in Ambon
Various cigarette brands
In contrast to this, “flavoured” cigarettes have been banned in the US under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009, a category which clove cigarettes fall under (Edwards 2019). With its sweet flavour, kretek is considered a gateway product, softening the harsh taste of tobacco smoke and making it easier for new smokers such as younger children to start their addiction. It has also been found that clove cigarettes contain more nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide than conventional “white” cigarettes (Nichter 2009) smoked in the West. Due to the anesthetic quality of the clove, they tend to be inhaled more deeply, taking more time and puffs to finish, and in turn, leading to smokers facing up to 20 times the risk of acute lung damage compared to nonsmokers (Martin 2018).
Edwards, C. 2019, About clove cigarettes, viewed 17 January 2019, <https://www.livestrong.com/article/183397-about-clove-cigarettes/>.
Hurt, R.D., Ebbert, J.O., Achadi, A. & Croghan, I.T. 2012, ‘Roadmap to a tobacco epidemic: transnational tobacco companies invade Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 306-312.
Martin, T. 2018, Facts about clove cigarettes, viewed 17 January 2019, <https://www.verywellmind.com/information-about-kreteks-and-clove-cigarettes-2825286>.
Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Danardono, M., Ng, N., Pradanbari, Y. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 18, viewed 17 January 2019, <https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/18/2/98.abstract>.
Rachman, A. 2016, ‘Indonesia rushes to save national treasure’, Wall Street Journal, 28 June, viewed 16 January 2019, <https://www.wsj.com/articles/indonesia-tries-to-puff-up-clove-cigarette-industry-1466617169>.