Designers have the ability to both contribute positively or negatively to a community as long as society, culture and government permits. Everything tobacco related has had some form of influence from a designer; be it packaging, manufacturing, distribution and everything down to the cigarette itself. Indonesia’s case is no different, designers play a large role in the successes of tobacco, however, this is only possible due to tobaccos deeply ingrained economic, political and cultural roots in the country.
To be an ethical designer in Indonesia’s case is to understand these roots before attempting to design for these clients. The designer must understand the social and cultural differences without prejudice to create a system or product which would effectively suit the client and their needs.
Understanding the tobacco epidemic in Indonesia means to delve deeper than surface level information like habits and social aspects of smoking, but into the more political and economically involved areas of it. For example, to eradicate tobacco and tobacco use in the country would be devastating to the workers of the industry. A Sampoerna employee claimed that working 4 days a week at a cigarette rolling factory would be enough for the worker to put their child through school and university. Meanwhile, the government also aims to raise import duties for tobacco, which “aims at enhancing the welfare of Indonesian tobacco farmers as chances grow that their output will be absorbed domestically at higher prices”. (Indonesia-Investment 2018), Government involvement and revenue associated with the tobacco industry in Indonesia is just one aspect that a designer must consider before attempting to design ethically.
Figure 1 shows of a pack Marlboro cigarettes. With minimal graphic warnings, the bright red packaging and embossed branding is designed to appeal to a variety of audiences. The brand is known for having associations to masculinity, especially in its initial stages where the Marlboro commercials featured a strong and empowering “Marlboro cowboy man”.
Tobacco in Australia however, although still somewhat prominent, has government involvement in the opposing direction and has a more tobacco prevention intent. Since 1990, prevention methods enforced by the government alongside not-for-profit organisiations have seen large a reduction in smoking. One tobacco control method which has had influence from a designer is the graphic warnings applied to a plain packaging on tobacco products implemented in 2006. (The Department of Health 2018) Unlike the colourful and often misleading packaging and advertisements present in Indonesia, a designer would have been an agent for change in developing plain packaging to make cigarettes less appealing to the Australian populous.
Indonesia-Investment 2018, Cigarette & Tobacco Industry Indonesia: Rising Pressures in 2018?, viewed 21 December 2018, <https://www.indonesia-investments.com/news/todays-headlines/cigarette-tobacco-industry-indonesia-rising-pressures-in-2018/item8471>
The Department of Health 2018, Smoking Prevalence Rates, viewed 21 December 2018, < http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/tobacco-control-toc~smoking-rates>
Chen, J. 2018, Marlboro Cigarette Packaging