The Perception of Cigarettes

The smell of Japanese cuisine wafts gently through the air before being engulfed in the flustered movements of waiters shuffling systematically around large round tables. Plates clatter and click against frantic discussion and small talk with eagerly pressed elbows firmly placed into a draped crisp white cloth. In the foreground is Admad a 20-year-old ITS industrial design student with a passion for design and activism. I begin my interview by introducing myself and discussing our mutual understanding of CAD and rendering software before beginning my inquiry into the tobacco industries vice-like grip on Indonesia and the perspective held by the Indonesian people.

One of the major concepts which I wanted to explore within this interview was the perspective of tobacco held by modern Indonesia. I specifically wanted to gain an understanding of the role of tobacco companies within Indonesia society in light of contemporary understandings of smokings ill effects and repercussions. From this understanding, I posed the question “Do you believe Tobacco Companies are beneficial for Indonesian society” from this question I entered with a preconceived idea that contemporary Indonesians would perceive tobacco companies as a negative influence. Admad responded, “tobacco companies are good for Indonesia because they provide so much for Indonesians”. This juxtaposed response possed a significant point of interest so I inquired further as to where this belief stemmed. Admad proceeded to inform me that tobacco companies make a significant positive contribution to society through the funding and implementation of community programs a notion reiterated in the quote “money from the cigarette industry is a major source of tax revenue for Indonesian Government” (Adioetomo & Hendratno 2001; Aditama 2002; Yurekli & De Beyer 2000). These community programs included sporting clubs and opportunities with Sampoerna being a noticeable example. Admad also informed me of the educational benefits tobacco companies provide Indonesia students evident within the copious grants and opportunities tobacco companies provide particularly evident within Sampoerna University which offers grants up to $41,000 for its top students (The Jakarta Post 2018). These insights made me re-evaluate my perspective of the tobacco companies particularly in regards to the level of power big tobacco holds over Indonesian society evident within the indirect propaganda utilised throughout Indonesian society.

Sampoerna University
Sampoerna University – 2018

Following our discussion of the benefits tobacco companies provide for modern Indonesia I returned to the interview and inquired into Admad personal understanding of the risks associated with smoking. I began by posing the question “are you aware of what smoking does to the human body?” to which Admad responded, “smoking can make you sick”. Admad response surprised me specifically due to the blanket statement nature of the response which spurred my response “are you aware that smoking can cause cancer among other illnesses”.  Admad rebutted in surprise “really” a notion reiterated in by the world health organisation in the quote “The underestimation of tobacco risks by general populations has a high direct correlation with smoking rates” (WHO 2012). After Ahmad’s response, we began discussing the various risks and illness associated with smoking including emphysema as well as short-term effects including difficulty breathing and a reduced sense of taste. This lack of knowledge in regards to the understanding of smoking piqued my interest specifically due to the prevalence of tobacco education in Indonesia and the plethora of information available online. This insight inspired me to pursue an information-based campaign which highlighted the ill effect of smoking specifically the short-term implications of smoking in the hope these would be more relevant for young people.

Once the food had been placed on our table we halted the discussion. In summary, the discussion provided invaluable insights into the nature of the tobacco industry within Indonesian specifically the perception of Tobacco conglomerates. The interview also provided an insight into the level of understanding possessed by a tertiary student within Indonesia which would prove valuable in the conceptualisation and finalisation of my team’s final solution.


The dichotomy of design

Designers provide a critical agent for change within contemporary society evident within an understanding about the role of the user in an effective design solution as well as the role of prototyping and technical skill in the realisation of conceptualisations. These values allow designs to express ideas and perspectives effectively with stakeholders thereby producing contextually relevant design solutions and marketing campaigns for big tobacco.

One of the major was in which designers have a had a positive impact upon the tobacco industry and thus a negative impact upon the Indonesian people is evident within the notion of branding and packaging within Indonesia. One of the major examples of this phenomena is evident within the utilisation of colour within packaging particularly the utilisation of lighter colours in order to draw false connections between the cigarettes and less negative effects. This notion was reflected in the quote ‘ colours and descriptors are perceived by smokers to communicate health-risk information.’ (Bansal-Travers, 2011). Another example of designers negative impact through the smoking industry is evident within the campaign strategies utilised throughout Indonesia. These campaigns work through an aspirational framework similar to Australian alcohol advertisement with a significant pressure begin placed particularly on young men. These young men formate one of the strongest target groups as reflected in the quote ‘Tobacco advertisements in Indonesia often contain messages that suggest lifestyles of adventure, attractiveness and modernity. These advertisements are popular with young men and these same ads are also very attractive to younger boys. Effectively these ads would desensitize the population, priming them for smoking later in life (Ng et al., 2007).


In comparison to Australian marketing techniques, the notion of drinking as a bonding agent between young people is significantly prevalent within the smoking cultural of Indonesia with young men, in particular, asserting the place of smoking a social tool to add in the formation of friendships. This concept is corroborated within a study the World Health Organisation which suggests “ the position of the young boys as followers’, their social environment seemed to encourage and reinforce smoking to them. Cigarettes enabled the boys to develop social bonds amongst each other, maintain the group’s ‘cool’ identity and avoid social exclusion; These children see tobacco as a way to increase their social status, making it an important element of social life for boys” (Ng 2007).

In summary, designs play an important role within the effectiveness of smoking within Indonesia from both a product to campaigning perspective designers readily utilise their skills to skew and warp the perception of tobacco from a health risk to an Indonesian necessity. This question of ethical indifference allows an understanding of the significant sway a design can provide in the uptake and opinion of a product within the eyes of a consumer.


Bansal-Travers, M., Hammond, D., Smith, P. and Cummings, K. 2011, The Impact of Cigarette Pack Design, Descriptors, and Warning Labels on Risk Perception in the U.S., American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol 40, no 6, pp.674-682,.

Marlboro 2014, NEVER SAY MAYBE. BE MARLBORO., viewed 21 December 2018, <;.

Ng, N., Weinehall, L. and Ohman, A. 2006, ‘If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’ Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking, Health Education Research, vol 22, no 6, pp.794-804,.

Project: Pilihan Kita

Indonesia is one of the biggest consumers of tobacco in the world with 70% of their population being smokers (WHO, 2018). Aggressive marketing tactics and misinformation contribute to a misinformed understanding of the health risks associated with smoking. This is in conjunction with an endearing view of tobacco in the hearts and minds of the Indonesian people. In a distinctly difficult problem space, we worked to create a campaign focused upon recontextualising and subverting the aspirational perception of tobacco and highlighting the benefits of a smoke-free lifestyle in both the long and short term.

From our research, we distilled a series of key insights that influenced our ideation process. We categorised our insights into 3 pillars of a STEEP analysis: socio-cultural, economic and political  – as we found these to be the most dominant influencers of tobacco culture within Indonesia. We deduced that the most effective way to implement any real change would be to have a bottom-up approach. Through our ethnographic observations, and empirical insights it was evident that community enforced codes of conduct were received with more compliance than government legislation.

By drawing upon multiple streams of information we hoped to quickly gain a comprehensive understanding of the statistics associated with tobacco usage and its complex intrinsicness within Indonesian culture. In tandem with the information ascertained, we conducted interviews with a number of stakeholders to better understand the local perception of Indonesia’s tobacco industry, as well as their understanding of smoking-related disease.


Following the collation of our research, we began the process of quickly interpreting these insights into various viable strategies in order to assess both a direction and intention for the rest of our design campaign. Following the research phase, we formulated a consensus on our target group being young Indonesians aged between 15 – 25.

Studies have found that a non-smoker identity was a major influence on intention to quit and was positively correlated with higher success rates of quitting (Meijer et al., 2015). In Indonesia, tobacco marketing has spent years building a powerful aspirational narrative around smoking, one that frames the protagonist (the smoker) as more successful, more attractive, more confident and more masculine. It follows that the antithesis of these qualities; unsuccessful, unattractive, meek, weak, etc., start to become associated with the passive act of refraining. For adolescent Indonesians that are highly affected by social and peer pressures, this highlights the importance of addressing and fostering social identities for non-smokers.

Our design solution is a campaign that outlines how to initiate these ideas to create a brand and hopefully a movement.

Pilihan Kita (our choice) is a campaign which draws on the aspirational marketing misused in Indonesia, creating a social identity for people looking to quit smoking. Stemming from second and first-hand accounts, we have created a multi-channel campaign that facilitates a safe and positive community for like-minded individuals.


This notion of personal aspiration was continued within the creation of small comic strips. These comic strips effectively depict contextually significant aspirational stories with the aim being to change the perception of smoking as a roadblock on the path to achieve personal goals. The aspirations we chose to depict focused on the social and economic consequences of habitual smoking (which largely remain unnoticed by the Indonesians, courtesy of big tobacco). By focusing on these consequences we hope to open a new conversation about the effects of smoking in the present rather than long-term health impacts due to the relevance of these issues for young Surabaya’s.

The Instagram page is designed to facilitate a community and accountability which is proven to increase the success rate of quitting smoking. It allows people to share their stories, their motivations and location enabling them to feel like they are part of a community that is making the choice to live healthier, richer and tobacco-free.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


People who are interested in our movement can contact us via the landing page and ask for stickers and signage free of charge. This is a way for them to actually help us by making their tangible mark on public space. This will aid in ensuring the sustainability of the movement. Once we have amplified and instilled the message, it’s important to make sure that it remains present in the everyday lives of Surabaya’s, even just in a small way. Walking through the streets of Surabaya you are bombarded with imagery from Big Tobacco. We can claim back some space ourselves in our own small way. Signage can assist neighbourhoods and businesses in their efforts to keep public spaces smoke free, but this collateral also fosters solidarity and recognition amongst strangers. It fosters the notion that each one of us is not alone, and we have strength in numbers, that together we have the power to influence real and permanent social change.

Tobacco companies are not selling a product; they are selling the dream of a better future which is something much more powerful and mobilising. Our campaign recognises this. The way that we have chosen to respond is through the construction of another narrative. The difference is that this one is real, it’s based on facts and science, and it can have a positive impact on Surabayan society today.

In summary, the campaign is drawing on the success of aspirational marketing narratives that are commonly misused in tobacco advertising. Our multi-platform campaign will work to foster a new social identity, a community and as a result, an effective support system. With the implementation of this campaign, Surabaya could see the growth of a community that sees through the lies of the tobacco advertising and strives to support each other, working together to lead better lives.


Meijer, E., Gebhardt, W., Dijkstra, A., Willemsen, M. & Van Laar, C., 2015, ‘Quitting smoking: The importance of non-smoker identity in predicting smoking behaviour and responses to a smoking ban’, Psychology & Health, vol 30, no 12, pp.1387-1409.

World Health Organization 2018, Tobacco Control in Indonesia, viewed 8 December 2018, <>.


The Habit of Hard Work

Technicolour buildings bask in the warm orange glow of a dying day catching and exposing the smoke and smog of the Arab district. The smoke sits still in the air barely disturbed by the call to prayer which radiates from Sunan Ampel down into the small stalls and shops which adorn the fringes of bustling streets and alleys, each living in a perpetual cloud of tobacco. The culture of smoking within Indonesian society has permeated every facet of life for Surabaya’s 3 million citizens, from the home to the workplace smoking exists unchallenged with statistics suggesting “33% of the population (67.4% of men and 4.5% of women) as smokers”(2). One of the major trends I observed in these small clusters of consumption was the men occupying their stores consistently smoked cigarettes while conducting business as seen in figures 1 and 2. I interpreted this behaviour as an extension of the masculine perception smoking provides Indonesian men with studies reiterating “the use of tobacco as a masculinity signifier”(1). This notion enforced by the significant contrast between both statistical tobacco use as well as the tobacco use I observed.

Following this encounter, I continued through the main shopping arcade and upon returning to the streets I meet a group of men huddled around their Becaks smoking together while waiting for customers as seen in figures 3 and 4. This notion of smoking within work compounded within a social context perpetuated the masculine perception of smoking within Indonesia as cited by cigarettes being “used to create social bonds among peers, to maintain the group’s identity and to avoid exclusion by their peers”(1). The representation of smoking across Indonesian society as a social activity was highlighted as significantly more evident within the transport workers. An opinion held by the various researchers asserted that “motorcycle and taxi drivers, in particular, will fill the time waiting for customers by smoking and their cigarette consumption tends to be particularly high (85%).”(1). The cigarette in the context of transport providers connotes both a sense of comradery and an escape from the trials of their occupation.

Upon further investigation of the understanding of the cost of smoking both financially and physiologically was a notion poorly understood by those who participate in these occupations. This notion is supported by a study conducted specifically in regards to transport workers with the consensus reached being “those informal workers should be educated on the relevance of cigarette warning labels and how it can help them to live a healthy driving life.”(1). The economic impact of smoking particularly in regards to labour occupations such as transport with the onset of related diseases and breathing difficulties hampering the ability for transport workers to operate.

Map exercise

Reference List

  1. smoking behaviour and attitude towards cigarette warning labels among informal workers in Surabaya City – East Java, Indonesia. Kiranal, R. Dewi, V. Berkinah, T. Isnaniah, viewed 6th of December 2018
  2. World Health Organization [WHO], Tobacco Control in Indonesia, WHO, Geneva, viewed 4th of December 2018, <>.

Visual Vice

A recent example a designed initiative with a focus on tobacco control is evident within the plain packaging method instituted by the Australian government. The method focused upon the removal of branding with an olive green colour palette design (David, 2017). The plain packaging policy operates as a top-down solution with the aim being to change the perception and stigmatise tobacco products for both current and potential users.

Figure 1: Change in packaging, David H.

The first major impact of the plain packaging strategy adopted by the Australian government focuses on targeting the cultural perception of smoking with a particular emphasis on non-smokers. The role of packaging and colour palettes initial worked to target the desires of demographics within society particularly young adults evident utilisation of trendy iconographic and lighters colours. By changing the branding of these products into a singular standardised appearance this appeal could then be subverted with the substituted olive colour rephrasing the product as repulsive. The effectiveness of this policy was reviewed in 2014 with a survey of high school students with the study stating ‘This packaging change was associated with a reduction perceived attractiveness and appeal of cigarette packs to adolescent’ (Facts sheet no. 1: What has been the impact of legislation to standardise the packaging of tobacco products in Australia?, 2016).

The second major impact of the plain packaging strategy adopted by the Australian government was the enhancement of the unappealing visuals previously implemented on cigarette packaging. These images were previously present on tobacco product however following the introduction of the plain packaging policy the scale of these graphics increased dramatically from 30 % to 75 % (White and Williams, 2015). This increase in scale in combination with the change to plain packaging reinforced the unappealing atmosphere the policy aimed to manifest within potential users. This implementation also worked to increase the understanding of current users with Cancer Council Victoria suggesting ‘in the first year post-implementation, more smokers noticed graphic health warning sand attributed their motivation to quit to the warnings compared with pre-plain packaging.’ (White and Williams, 2015).

The third major impact of the plain packaging strategy adopted by the Australian government was the challenging of the comparative safety of tobacco brands as understood by the public. This misconception stems from an interpretation of colour as an indicator of the safety of the tobacco product with darker colours being perceived as dangerous and unhealthy while lighter colours were perceived as less harmful or safe. This perception can be attributed to a combination of marketing established by tobacco companies with products labelled ‘light’ or ‘mild’ typically being coloured lighter tones as well as the natural conditions of the colours. This understanding was supported by a study conducted in 2010 which stated ‘colors and descriptors are perceived by smokers to communicate health-risk information.’ (Bansal-Travers, 2011). The change to a stark and unappealing dark olive colour combats this theory by playing upon the implied connotations of the colour has unhealthy and dangerous.

In summary, the plain packaging policy adopted by the Australian government as a nonprofit effort to combat the understanding and uptake of smoking has been successful in changing the perception and appeal of tobacco products visual and practical perspective.

Bansal-Travers, M. 2011, What Do Cigarette Pack Colors Communicate to Smokers in the U.S.?, viewed 29 November 2018, <>.

David, H. 2017, Nothing Plain about Plain Packaging | IASLC Lung Cancer News, viewed 29 November 2018, <>.

Facts sheet no. 1: What has been the impact of legislation to standardise the packaging of tobacco products in Australia? 2016, viewed 28 November 2018, <>.

White, V. and Williams, T. 2015, Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco in 2014, viewed 29 November 2018, <$File/Tobacco%20Report%202014.PDF>.