As I walked through the bustling narrow alleyways of Ambon I couldn’t help but gain a whiff of the smoke filling the air, a smell that reminded me of the crowed outdoor areas of the Sydney pubs. But this wasn’t a pub with areas secluding the smokers from the non, this was the streets, outside a school with the smoke being breathed out by boys only a few years younger than myself. It’s hard to say that I wasn’t too surprised because I knew people my age who smoked, even tried it myself before, and we had come from a background who were educated from birth of the dangers of smoking. So, if I had tried, if people I knew continued to do, what chance did the boys of Ambon have when it came to saying no to smoking.
I spoke to Andreano, a 27-year-old Government worker who I met whilst painting the mural. He and most the Ambonese Running group were non-smokers and were happy to share his insight into the culture of Tobacco that surrounds him. He told me most people start smoking in school, males who feel not only pressure from society and culture but direct pressure from their peers. “Often someone who doesn’t smoke can be bullied and questioned about their sexual orientation simply because they don’t want to try,” Andreano told me, stating “I got bullied for this when I was in High School”. This echoed the masculinity pulls Tobacco companies used to advertise to young Indonesian males, as it is clear that people who don’t smoke are seen as some sort of outcast. Although he himself tried smoking due to the peer pressure, he never liked the taste, but it is easy to see why so many young people begin in the first place. He told me that the smokers he knew were aware of the health consequences but didn’t care and live by telling themselves “all humans will eventually die, just enjoy your life”. It unfortunately becomes obvious that smoking is heavily driven by deeply ingrained views and peer pressure, with a Health Education Research Report documenting comments from two Indonesian boys says “If I don’t Smoke, I’m not a real man” and “If I don’t smoke, I will feel inferior to my friends, because I’m the only one who doesn’t smoke” (Ng, Weinehall, et al 2007).
This made me think and compare to Australia, the drinking culture of beer amongst males and why we even do it. I’d never felt the direct pressure like Andreano talked about, but there was always this subtle sense that a drinking culture was ingrained in our DNA. Canadian Club’s ‘Over Beer? The Big question’ campaign highlights this exact point, a clever ad that asks the questions “Why do you even drink beer?” (Canadian Club Australia 2017, 0:09) to which a range of responses such as “Big Terry drinks it” (Canadian Club Australia 2017, 0:11) and “I only drink it because my dad drank it” (Canadian Club Australia 2017, 0:20) are raised.
Despite Ambon and Australia having vastly different cultures, I found this comparison to ring home for me, a sense that these bad habits are deeply drilled into the way of life. Andreano couldn’t find a concrete answer of why people smoked but simply said it was “part of Ambonese culture”, just as I had come to feel that maybe drinking was a small part of mine.
Canadian Club Australian 2017, Over beer? – The Big Question, video recording, YouTube, viewed 1 February 2019, < https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tAvEUpSpv0>
Ng, N, Weinehall, L, et al. 2007, ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking, Health Education Research, Volume 22, Issue 6, Pages 794–804 viewed 1 February 2019, < https://academic.oup.com/her/article/22/6/794/640787>
Roche, A, Bywood, P, et al. 2015, The Social Context of Alcohol Use in Australia, Australia’s National Research Centre (NCETA), viewed 1 February 2019, < http://nceta.flinders.edu.au/files/6412/5548/2957/EN400.pdf>