POST D: A smoker’s rite of passage

Indonesia ranks as one of the highest countries for smoking and tops this in South East Asia, this can be credited to the fact that Indonesia has not ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and is one of the few countries to have not done so. The reasoning behind this is simply economical as their tobacco industry is one of the largest in the world, alongside the ingrained cultural significance it presently holds. Smoking is also a very gendered and almost performative action in Indonesia, as there is a very pervasive idea that smoking is ‘manly’; with non-smoking men being seen an ‘feminine’ by adolescent smokers (Ng, Weinehall & Ohman 2007).

A study conducted by Ng, Weinehall and Ohman in 2007 focused on rural regions to collect data on tobacco trends there, their focus area was Purworejo which is located in the south of Central Java. A similar study was also conducted in the capital of Central Java, Semarang. (Smet et al. 1999)Both of these studies produced results that indicate smoking is a bonding activity for male friendships and that they smoke the most in groups.  In another regional study conducted in Cibeureum in West Java (Ganiwijaya et al. 1995), they found that among the 13,863 people surveyed, 83.7% of the men indicated that they are current smokers and only 4.9% of the women indicated that they currently smoked. 

Generally speaking, in Indonesia, smoking is also a rite of passage for boys as it has been traditionally observed as a recognition of attaining manhood during circumcision ceremonies. This directly ties their concept of “masculinity” to smoking which has been indicated by the aforementioned studies. The tobacco industry does not help with the issue of smoking in young boys as ““loosies,” or single cigarettes, can be picked up for just a few cents and are often sold in stalls set up outside schools.” (Barclay 2017)

This is a map I developed that shows where the Tobacco stores and schools are in Yogyakarta based on information provided by google maps:

(addendum: travelling to Yogyakarta made me realise that tobacco is even easier to purchase and there are countless stores selling tobacco products which just goes to show how crucial primary research and mapping is when engaging with design for social change)

Despite the sale of cigarettes being banned to people under the age of eighteen, there is no penalty or punishment surrounding this and thus the rule is seldom observed. In addition to this, the tobacco industry has utilised advertisements which, while it claims do not target youth, clearly would be attractive to the demographic. The following advertisement by L.A. clearly encapsulates my point and serves as the conclusive piece for this post:

I live bold (L.A. Zone 2018)


Barclay, A. 2017, ‘In Marlboro’s last frontier, a smokers’ rights group is defending the “human right” to light up’, Quartz, 18 February, viewed 26 November 2019, <>.

Ganiwijaya, T., Sjukrudin, E., De Backer, G., Suhana, D., Brotoprawiro, S. & Sukandar, H., 1995, ‘Prevalence of cigarette smoking in a rural area of West Java, Indonesia’ Tobacco Control, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 335 – 337.

LA Zone 2018, I Live Bold, video recording, YouTube, viewed 26 November 2019, <>. 

Ng, N., Weinehall, L. & Ohman, A. 2007, ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking’, Health Education Resource, vol. 2, no. 6, pp. 794 – 804.

Prabandari, Y.S. & Dewi, A. 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 25 November 2019, <>.

Smet, B., Maes, L., De Clercq, L., Haryanti, K. & Winarno, R.D. 1999, ‘Determinants of smoking behaviour among adolescents in Semarang, Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 186 – 191.

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