POST D: Culture of tobacco advertising in Indonesia

By April Jiang

With the domination of Indonesia’s tobacco industry, advertising plays a significant role in its culture manifesting new and existing values to the community. As a result of the government’s lack of urgency regarding the nation’s blind addiction to tobacco, Indonesia is the only country in Asia that is not affiliated with the World Health Organisation’s: Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) (Tjandra 2018). This has significantly compromised the growth of citizens and their behaviour and views towards smoking activity. As a result of the heavy marketing of tobacco, the world’s view of illegal advertising, is regarded as normal for the community.

(A schoolboy passes billboards advertising tobacco products in Sumba, Indonesia c. 2014)

Indonesia’s culture of cigarette advertising is known to be amongst the most aggressive in the world. It has become an undetected factor to the wisdom of society, influencing their behaviours and priorities, and disguising the activity with positive connotations. In 2004, 50% of all the nation’s billboards comprised of tobacco advertisements. In local Yogyakarta, this was a result of billboards’ taxes comprising a large portion of the government’s revenue. The vigorous nature of the industry is evident in the government’s inability to compromise the economy, for the public health of the people. As a result of tobacco companies possessing political and financial power, the industry is present in almost all aspects of Indonesian living. This is revealed to a great extent, in previous sponsorships within Yogyakarta, such as contests and college scholarships offered by tobacco companies, whose advertisements were also evident in college canteens (Nichter, Padmawati, Prabandari, Ng, Danardono, Nichter 2009). This exposure inevitably stains the knowledge of smoking activity in students to a degree they accept its normality in society. Although new laws have attempted to suppress the promotion of tobacco advertisements, such as sponsorships and media, they continue to manifest in daily culture.

Tobacco advertisements have surpassed the purpose of promotion and have progressed to exist amongst Indonesian life style. Advertisements “promote choice, and simply reflect” (Williams 2011). and “connect with the prevailing popular cultural values and desires of the day.” (Reynolds 1999). The presence of tobacco advertisements has grown to the extent of becoming almost natural to the city landscape of Yogyakarta in Central Java, known to be a major cultural and educational centre. They have had “almost total freedom to advertise their products in any format and through any communications vehicle in the country” (Nichter, Padmawati, Prabandari, Ng, Danardono, Nichter 2009). The saturation of tobacco exposure is further evident in a small focus of Jl. Mayor Suryotomo, a Yogyakarta street. Common forms of advertisements include cloth banners and billboards. In figure 1, the distressing amount of tobacco advertisements presented on cloth banners are recorded in red along the road, accessed through Google’s 2018 satellite imagery.

Figure 1: Jl. Mayor Suryotomo, Yogyakarta (Jl. Mayor Suryotomo 2018)

Whilst the nuances of tobacco advertising evolve to become an aspect in Indonesian culture, other south east-Asian countries, such as Thailand, Singapore and Brunei are progressing to ban its promotion. However, as a result of the nation’s prolonged exposure towards the culture of tobacco advertising, the nation requires alleviated encouragement, strict bans and potentially behavioural trends that will eliminate affirming connotations for smoking today.


Jl. Mayor Suryotomo 2018, Google Maps, views 25 November 2019,<,110.369313,3a,75y,4.96h,90.79t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sdjNr9z0cxEQMfuM3QvkP4Q!2e0!7i13312!8i6656>

McCall, C. 2014, A schoolboy passes billboards advertising tobacco products in Sumba, Indonesia, The Lancet, viewed 25 November 2019,                         <>

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Prabandari, Y., Ng, N., Danardono, M., Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisments in Indonesia,’ Tobacco Control, volume 18, issue 2, viewed 25 November 2019, <>

Reynolds, C. 1999, ‘Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: The defining characteristics for success,” volume 8, issue 1, viewed 25 November 2019, <>

Tjandra, N. 2018, ‘Disneyland for Big Tobacco: how Indonesia’s lax smoking laws are helping next generation to get hooked,’ The Conversation, 1 June, viewed 25 November 2019, <>

Williams, J. 2011, ‘The cultural impact of advertising,’ The Earthbound Report,’ weblog, WordPress, Luton, October 26, viewed 25 November 2019, <


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