An interview with Luqman, a 42 year old becak driver in Yogyakarta provides insight into his personal experience with smoking. Aged 14 and eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, he was deeply curious about the ‘relaxing’ and ‘stress-relieving’ effects of smoking. It is known that increasing age, and the influence of friends, sibling and a father who smokes were found to constitute risk factors in habitual smoking (Skulberg, Hamid & Vaktskjold 2019), and this proved true in Luqman’s case. And although it is hardly fair that millions of children are suffering from malnutrition, millions of Indonesian fathers are choosing to spend more money on cigarettes than on meat, eggs or milk for their children (Sumartono et al. 2011).
Ironically, his father forbid him from smoking. But with his pocket money, he secretly purchased a cheap brand of cigarettes to try. Once employed, he transitioned to a more expensive brand for its ‘good taste’ and also increased the quantity he smoked daily “from half a pack, to one pack, two pack and then three pack a day”, with one pack containing a total of 16 cigarettes. This sharp increase in smoking in Indonesia is argued to be the direct consequence of the decision to open the Indonesian tobacco industry to foreign investors during the 1990s economic liberalisation (Hurt et al. 2012). With more than 1,000 cigarette companies based in Indonesia (Prabandari & Dewi 2016), the domination of the tobacco industry limits the country’s ability to control the advertisement and sale of cigarettes.
But it was only 5 years ago that Luqman stopped smoking due to health issues such as eye irritation and respiratory problems. He immediately thought of smoking to be the culprit and finished his remaining cigarettes that day, to dramatically reduce his intake the next morning. I questioned whether he still smokes at social gatherings if there are other smokers present, as in advertisements, smoking is portrayed not only as socially encouraged for young men, but also part of the enjoyment of being young and establishing one’s masculine identity (Nichter et al. 2009). He replied yes, but he is no longer accustomed to the bitter taste so his body reacts negatively by vomiting. The fact that he still partakes in smoking to ‘socialise’ is a clear case of the tobacco industry reading, reproducing and working with Indonesian culture as a means of selling cigarettes.
Hurt, R.D., Ebbert, J.O., Achadi, A. & Croghan I.T. 2012, ‘Roadmap to a tobacco epidemic: transnational tobacco companies invade Indonesia’, vol. 21, no. 3.
Nichter, M., Padmawati, S., Danardono, M., Ng, N., Prabandari, Y. & Nichter, M. 2009, ‘Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia’, Tobacco Control, vol. 18.
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.
Skulberg, K.R., Hamid, S. & Vaktskjold, A. 2019, ‘Smoking Among Adolescent Males at Pulau Weh, Indonesia’, Public Health of Indonesia, vol. 5, no. 3.
Sumartono, W., Sirait, A.M., Holy, M. and Thabrany, H. 2011, ‘Smoking and Socio-Demographic Determinant of Cardiovascular Diseases among Males 45+ Years in Indonesia’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 8.