In Ambon, there is this sense of normalcy amongst the population when it comes to smoking. (Tjahjono, 2017). So normalised that the lines between an addiction, a habit or just culture, was in fact blurred and hard to differ. When investigating the motivation behind smoking, and furthermore to understand Ambonese culture a little better, I met an interesting 23yr old man called Nagieb. He stated almost immediately, that he realised smoking was poison, but that he could not stop. And it was after asking him why – why could he not stop smoking, or why he didn’t want to stop smoking, when he proposed an interesting thought.
“In Indonesia, addiction to smoke is better than an addiction to anything else… Drinking alcohol can affect your head and makes you do dangerous things, and if you gamble you could lose all your money. Smoking is cheap here, and it only hurts you, you can’t lose your family’s money or make your parents sad, and it’s the easiest one to stop.”
“So why don’t you stop?” I prompted.
“Because my choosing to smoke here [in Ambon] is sometimes the only control that we have. Sometimes here, [on this] small island, we have quiet business, and sometimes our family needs food, but we can not control that, we cannot control the money that comes in. But the feeling of [needing to] smoke, we can [satisfy the craving] just by smoking, to feel good. That [is something] we can control.”
It was intriguing to consider this idea of ‘control’. How an addiction ironically has control over an individual’s life, and yet, Nagieb insinuates that he has control over himself through his addiction. So cyclical it becomes ingrained in his culture and consequently – thought of as normal.
Studies have proposed that it is human nature to have an addiction (Addiction Centre, 2016). Ingrained in our evolution, having an addiction, provides the stamina for perfection, or wanting to achieve something greater. It is so commonly found in society that some say it is as simple as having a dream or goal. (Noffs, 2018).
However, it would be naïve to say that addictions are good, or vice versa, when in fact, they come in different strengths. Yes, some could be harmless, but most are toxic – defined as being the psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a dangerous substance, activity, or thought despite psychological and physical harm (Felman, 2018).
So how do we differentiate?
For Nagieb, understanding why he believed he couldn’t break out of the cycle was heavily determined by his circumstances. There were many times when he said he wish he could quit, but would laugh it off and say that he “couldn’t afford to be depressed” as though there was a larger price to pay if he quit, or that there were richer forms of addiction.
It’s intriguing to think that if we were placed under the same circumstances would we also possess the same addiction, thinking it was just part of our culture?
Addiction Centre. 2016. ‘Replacing one addiction for another’ Delphi Behavioural Health Group. Accessed on the 1st February, 2019
Felman, A. 2018. ‘What is an Addiction?’, Medical News Today. Accessed on the 1st Febrruary, 2019.
Noffs, M. 2018 ‘Why and addiction can be a good habit’, Australian Financial Review. Accessed on the 1st February, 2019.
Theiss, E. 2012. ‘The Grip of Addiction’, the plain dealer, Cleveland. Accessed on the 1st February, 2019.
Tjahjono, T. 2017. ‘How smoking becomes so cool in Indonesia’, Global Indonesian voices. Accessed on the 1st February, 2019.