Post D: Legislation lags as tobacco advertising runs rampant.

The Indonesian tobacco industry holds a staggering economic and political influence, encouraging lax legislative policies surrounding advertising and facilitating a perpetual cycle of addiction and enticement. The tobacco sector is the largest source of government revenue after oil, timber and gas, as well as being Indonesia’s second-largest employer (11 million workers after the government) (Nichter M et al 2009). Due to this undeniable influence, anti-tobacco legislation lags behind the rest of the world, as evidenced by the Indonesian government’s failure to ratify the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). 

The prevalence of cigarette advertising has undeniably shaped the culture surrounding Indonesia’s tobacco crisis, as Sampoerna (the largest Indonesian tobacco company) reflected, “Indonesian companies have almost total freedom to advertise their products in any format” (Nichter Met al 2009). This has lead to cities such as Yogyakarta becoming inundated with an unrelenting onslaught of tobacco-related imagery, notably in the form of cloth banners and billboards. The tobacco industry secures control of the placement of billboards throughout the city by ingratiating itself with the local government – funding infrastructure such as city gardens and lights. This acts as what Dr Ahsan describes as “camouflage,” “donations are exchanged for people’s health and livelihood” (Wibawa 2019). The prevalence of cigarette advertising is starkly contrasted at an international level, with countries such as Australia implementing plain packaging laws (since 2012) as well as a blanket ban on radio and television advertising (The Australian Department of Health 2019).

Figure 1: High school student perceptions of tobacco advertising in Yogyakarta.
Data from Dewi, A. & Pradabandari, Y.S. 2016

The Indonesian tobacco industry doesn’t limit itself solely to traditional, corporate methods of advertising. It has insidiously worked its way into cultural events and traditions in local communities. Tobacco companies provide funds to neighbourhoods (kampungs) in Yogyakarta so that they can decorate gateways and entrances in their community with brand imagery, with the possibility of prizes for creativity. They also sponsor celebrations such as the 2008 anniversary of Yogyakarta, in which Djarum ramped up advertising throughout the city. Through these methods, as well as more conventional sponsorship of sporting events such as Formula 1 and soccer/basketball competitions, cigarette advertising works heavily to create a culture which aligns smoking with masculinity and luxury, “targeting younger age groups who are still so focused on their identity formation” (Reynolds 1999). By appealing to younger boys as a future source of profits, the tobacco industry has created a situation wherein “70% of all men and one in five children aged between 13 and 15 smoke” (Wibawa 2019). 

Image result for Gudang Garam a mans cigarette ad
Figure 2: A 1995 Gudang Garam advertisement referring to the cigarette as “Kreteknya lelaki” (“The man’s cigarette”)

As smoking continues to cause approximately 19% of adult male deaths each year with virtually no effectual legislative efforts, one cannot argue with the Indonesian Heal Minister Nafsiah Mboi’s statement, “We have failed in protecting our people” (The Telegraph 2012).



Dewi, A. & Pradabandari, Y.S. 2016, ‘How do Indonesian youth perceive cigarette advertising? A cross-sectional study among Indonesian high school students’, Global Health Action, vol. 9, no. 1, viewed 26 November 2019, <>.

Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Prabandari, Y., Ng, N., Danardono, M. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisments in Indonesia,’ Tobacco Control, vol. 18, no. 2, viewed 26 November 2019, < >.

Reynolds, C. 1999, ‘Tobacco advertising in Indonesia: “the defining characteristics for success”’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, no. 1, viewed 26 November 2019, <>.

The Australian Department of Health, 2019, Tobacco plain packaging, Canberra, viewed 25 November 2019, <>.

The Telegraph, 2012, Two-Thirds of Indonesian men smoke, London, viewed 25 November 2019, <>.

Tobacco Free Kids, 2017, The toll of tobacco in Indonesia, viewed 25 November 2019, <>.

Wibaya, T. 2019, Tackling Indonesia’s smoking addiction a ‘double-edged sword’, ABC, Sydney, viewed 26 November 2019, <>.

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