Designing (out) the Tobacco Industry

The tobacco industry plays a large role in Yogyakarta’s society through its economic value via export and job creation. Due to its power, laws implemented on the tobacco industry allow for flexible design application through mainly advertisement and sponsorship of events and social media influencers. Designers also play a large role in the branding associated with packaging and streamlining of machinery for maximum product output.

  • Cigarette marketing in Indonesia is among the most aggressive and innovative in the world. As Sampoerna noted in their annual report in 1995: ‘‘Indonesian companies have almost total freedom to advertise their products in any format and through any communications vehicle in the country’’.  Unfortunately, this statement is as true today as it was over a decade ago. The reported expenditure by the tobacco industry on advertising in Indonesia in 2006 was Rp 1.6 trillion (approximately $178 million US dollars). (Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia, p.99)

Having not signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC), popular Indonesian events such as ‘Java Rockin’Land’ are subject to sponsorship of tobacco companies like Gudang Garam, who promote ‘big name’ western artists under advertisements  designed to be accessed online, through print media and television to attract national attention. Gudang Garam also promoted discounted tickets for students’ months prior to the event in hopes that a large number of there impressionable minds will be subject to high intensities of tobacco advertisement in connection with western ‘star power’. It is this double standard that many affluent western artists and influencers have that is becoming a main contributor to the tobacco industries increasing flourishment in Indonesia and are therefore incurring rebelling protest from Indonesian anti-smoke organisations such as the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. 

Through design activism, creative culture makers and designers can combat this tobacco epidemic through actively engaging in functional design that tackles social, environmental and political issues. By engaging campaigns through pop culture’s broad societal umbrella, the effectiveness of anti-smoking design activism would not only stay contemporary but would also allow current understanding and connectedness to become apparent in community settings. Targeting these ideas through event sponsorship and social media campaigns would be noticeable as an active engagement in protest against the tobacco industry’s indifferent marketing tools. ‘Truth’, a successful anti-smoking organisation from the United States, has become well known for its youth campaigns through website design, social media hashtags and contemporary activist approach to increasing trends such as vaping. 


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