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).
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 <https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/18/2/98.short>
Schewe E. 2017, Why do so many Indonesian men smoke?, JSTOR Daily, viewed 15th January 2019 <https://daily.jstor.org/why-do-so-many-indonesian-men-smoke/>
Tjandra, N. 2018, Indonesia’s lax smoking laws are helping next generation to get hooked, The Jakarta Post, viewed 15th January 2019 <https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2018/06/04/indonesias-lax-smoking-laws-are-helping-next-generation-to-get-hooked.html>
Report on the global tobacco epidemic 2017, World Health Organisation, viewed 15th January 2019 <https://www.who.int/tobacco/surveillance/policy/country_profile/idn.pdf>