When visiting Indonesia there is smokers everywhere. Male smokers. In fact approximately 57.1% of Indonesian men smoke, a stark contrast to only 3.6% of Indonesian women (Tobacco Atlas 2017). This difference is commonly attributed to cultural values but data from various sources suggests this gap is rapidly narrowing and The World Health Organisation estimates that the number of women smoking will almost triple over the next generation . In an essay on public health in Indonesia, Amanda Amos cautions that, “Women are becoming more independent and, consequently, adopting less traditional lifestyles. One symbol of their newly discovered freedom may well be cigarettes” (Amos 2000). However when talking to local Indonesian women Annisa*, who works with Muhammadiyah Tobacco Control Centre Yogyakarta, she shed light on the determination of Indonesian women to promote change and opposition to this deadly habit.
It is not just social stigma stopping Indonesian women from smoking, Annisa expressed a different view when she explained, “Women don’t really want to smoke because they will look manly and rebellious. But mostly women are more against smoking, because smoking is really disturbing first of all, and second of all, aside from the health risks, it’s still really annoying and the smell is bad.”
Studies show a clear link between tobacco marketing and risk of using tobacco products and The Tobacco Atlas warns that in order broaden their market the tobacco industry is now marketing it’s products aggressively to women and children. In a developing country like Indonesia tobacco companies market cigarettes as a ‘torch for freedom’ for women, a symbol of social desirability, emancipation, independence and success. In her journal article for ‘Addiction‘ Robyn Richmond cautions that “Tobacco marketing has extensively targeted women, exploiting women’s struggle for equal rights by promoting themes that purport an association between smoking and social desirability, freedom, success, glamour and business appeal” (Richmond 2003).
Despite the unscrupulous marketing tactics of tobacco companies in Indonesia, Annisa offered hope when she explained “I believe that from the Indonesian women’s perspective, mostly they really want to change things and they will change them because they want to improve the quality of life for all Indonesians.”
Tobacco Atlas, 2017. ‘Indonesia,’ tobaccoatlas.org, viewed 16 February 2017, <http://www.tobaccoatlas.org/country-data/indonesia/>
World Health Organization, 2015. ‘Tobacco Control in Indonesia,’ who.int, viewed 16 February 2017, <http://www.who.int/tobacco/about/partners/bloomberg/idn/en/>
Amos A, Haglund M. From social taboo to “torch of freedom”: the marketing of cigarettes to women, Tob Control , 2000, vol. 9 (pg. 3-8)
Ng, N; Weinehall, L; Ohman, A. 2006, ‘If I don’t smoke, i’m not a reall man – Indonesian Teenage boys’ views about smoking,’ Health Educ Res, Vol. 22, No. 6, Pp. 794-804.
Richmond R. You’ve come a long way baby: Women and the tobacco epidemic, Addiction , 2003, vol. 98 (pg. 553-7)
Annisa 2017, Interviewed by Manon Drielsma in Yogyakarta, 10 February 2017.
*(Annisa’s name has been changed for the Interview)