Indonesia is currently among the top four tobacco consuming countries in the world (Anshari, 2017). Although data research supports this, it wasn’t until I travelled to Indonesia that I discovered the underlying reasons and cultural history behind the problem itself. In Indonesia, smokers typically describe their relationship to cigarettes in positive terms and it is rare to hear one say that they are addicted to kreteks, even if they smoke heavily. (Anshari, 2017). Our culturally collaborative experience in Banjarmasin has led us to several opportunities to meet and interview local community members and students, allowing me to gain insight into what the tobacco issue stems from and why the issue is increasing rather than decreasing.
Auralia Shalsagiani (Aura) is a student in Banjarmasin who feels strongly about the issue of tobacco control in Indonesia and at the young age of fifteen is a member of several non profit organisations that aim to promote health and positive change throughout her city.
Mindsets inherited from previous generations explain how history is remembered (Fisher, 1997) and in this instance, smoking amongst men has a significant cultural history in Indonesia. According to young males, smoking portrays the image of potency, wisdom and bravery’ (Naw, 2007). Aura explains that people think it’s ok for men to smoke because the people of Indonesia feel that men have more freedom than women, stating that ‘the feminist mindset is not popular’ (Shalsagiani, 2018). This opinion stems from expectations formed by the society of Banjarmasin and the cultural history of the Muslim religion. Although women physically have the freedom to smoke, the public would comment that a female who smokes lacks manners, which is an opinion most women choose to respect (Shalsagiani, 2018).
The affordable price point of cigarette packets in Indonesia makes this cultural expectation a reality. Aura suggests that smokers in her age group buy a minimum of 3 packets a week, sometimes spending all their lunch money on cigarettes. The Indonesian government aim to increase the average packet price from 15 000rp to 150 000rp so teenagers can no longer purchase them, however this is difficult to achieve due to the democratic nature of the government and concern for loss of tobacco farming business.
Health concerns related to smoking and second hand smoke seem to be overlooked in Indonesia and although the packets have small health warnings on each side, this seems to have minimal effects on the smokers buying them.
‘Merokok atau tidak merokok akan mati juga’ which translates to “Smoking dead. Not smoking also dead” (Shalsagiani, 2018) is a popular statement in Banjarmasin and encapsulates the disregard locals have for the fatal nature of tobacco provoked illnesses. Smokers seem to ignore their individual health and so it is necessary that organisations such as Vital Strategies emphasise the positivity of a smoke free environment and shift focus from an individuals point of view to the detrimental effects tobacco smoke has on their surrounding community members and environment.
Read the full Interview here.
Shalsagiani, A. (2018). Primary Research- Interview about Tobacco consumption in Banjarmasin.
Anshari, D.(2017). Effectiveness of Pictorial Health Warning Labels for Indonesia’s Cigarette Packages. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from http://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/4059
Nawi Ng, L. Weinehall, A. Öhman. (2007) Indonesian teenage boys views about smoking, Health Education Research. Volume 22, Issue 6. pp. 794–804.
Nichter, M. Padmawati, S. Danardono, M. (2009) Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia. Tobacco Control. 18, pp. 98-107.
Osland, J. A, Bird. (2017) Building Research & Information. Making Sense of Intercultural Collaboration. IGB Network Company. 35:4, pp. 115-113.
Thomas, M. (2017). Tobacco excise increase. Canberra: Parliament of Australia. pp. 1.