The Tobacco Portrait

By Awis Mranani

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.33.46 PM

When I think of the infrastructure, I think of all things that would sustain the function of a society. We all know important infrastructure such as roads, water systems, schools, etc. But, as weird as it may sound, I believe tobacco is one too.

Coming from Indonesia, one of the countries with the highest smoking rate, I picked tobacco for this project because there must be plenty of vital components―problems, solutions, illusions, perceptions, deaths, living, loss, benefits― propagated by it. If not, why do people defend it, but at the same time demonize it?

To further elaborate upon this topic, I want to discuss five features of tobacco use in Indonesia: the economic and social reliance upon the product, the expropriation of tobacco industry by foreign companies to accumulate fortune, the construction of self through tobacco advertisement, the ideas of fear and disgust toward tobacco products and the value of tradition in relation to tobacco in preserving one’s root.

Speaking of tobacco smoking in Indonesia, I can’t help to think of kretek, clove cigarette, which was originally produced in Java—hand-rolled by local farmers. Since then tobacco and clove farming has become the source of income for people in different regions, where those two plants are in abundance. However, the potential of these plants to be manufactured into profitable goods is also understood by transnational companies that gradually took control over the industry. In light of this, these companies continue to expand and grow their business, which allow them to produce more cigarettes, and advertise expansively. Smoking is not only about technological advancement, but also about the notions of modernization and industrialization for Indonesians. The idea of equality between men and women, for example, validates the latter to have the same jobs, to own the same things and to practice the same habit, such as smoking in public. What was once a man’s thing, is now a woman’s thing too; under the flag of modernity.

At the same time, politics is also in the mix of this thriving industry. Regulations after regulations are imposed to control tobacco. Some say it’s about health concerns, but others say that these efforts are simply trying to control this profitable commodity. Health and pharmaceutical industries, governments and international organizations are unveiling counter images through their campaigns. The persuasion war continues. But maybe for some people, tobacco consumption is not about self-production at all. It’s also not a concern about physical health. It’s simply a tradition.

“In this modern society, people think of health merely as physical,” said Iman Budhi Santosa, a seasoned Indonesian poet. “A lot of what create problems within our society comes from unhealthy psychology, souls. Yet modern people would look at tobacco as a killer, from the perspective of ‘modern health.’” While for some others, tobacco is what always keeps them healthy and close to their tradition.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.37.16 PM


Roots | Tobacco in Cultural Context

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.41.36 PM

One of the things you’ll find at a funeral ceremony in Toraja, South Sulawesi are cigarettes. The host serves thousands of them to accompany food and drink provided. Guests are supplied with at least 150,000 cigarettes per day.

Similarly, in many parts of the Javanese Island, the first thing that is offered when visiting someone’s home are cigarettes. People in small villages, such as those living in Urutsewu, Central Java, also incorporate cigarette smoking in their local assemblies. And for travelers, who enter the village, tasting the local tobacco, Klembak Menyan, is a crucial part of initiation or a welcoming formality.

In the Javanese community individuals are very accustomed to the consumption of tobacco because it is regularly used in many rituals and routines―smoking with the neighbor before and after going to work, for instance. The people also smoke during religious festivals, social gatherings, and especially during traditional puppet shows known as Wayang.

During a Wayang performance, one puppeteer controls hundreds of puppets, which are made of buffalo skin and decorated with colors and carving. The show lasts for a whole day, and the puppeteer has to do it all: changes intonations and voices, sings, tells stories and even inserts funny punch lines in the plot. To liven up the mood, musicians accompany the play with traditional Javanese music. The audience will see only the shadows of the puppets, because each of the character is controlled behind a white screen, which is illuminated by oil lantern to create reflections. It is an elaborate traditional performance aged more than 500 years old and it tells a story about spirituality. This show is the place for people to gather, socialize and together learn about life, custom and religion. And smoking tobacco is part of it too, it has always been. Additionally, many times tobacco is used as a gift and it’s impolite to decline it.

Today, tobacco is maybe considered to be one of the main causes of death, in Indonesia. However, in many communities in the country, it remains a symbol of hospitality, harmony and respect. Tobacco provides a vital infrastructure in Indonesia, socially as well as spiritually.

As a matter of fact, it’s a tradition that originates back to the colonial era. Portuguese were the first to introduce tobacco to Indonesia during the period of colonization, which then followed by the Dutch. Initially, tobacco smoking was only for the elite class, but as tobacco popularity grew, it became a part of everybody’s daily life, including the commoners. In light of this, around two and a half centuries ago, Indonesia was known for its cigar productions. Amongst the most popular variants were Deli, Besuki and Vorstenlanden.

Source: Temanggung News

Nyadran (above) is a traditional ritual conducted as a gratitude to the higher power for providing the people with natural resources. In Temanggung, Central Java, tobacco farmers conduct this ritual at the start of the fasting month (Ramadan). They are thanking God for giving them an abundance of tobacco, which has always been the source of their livelihood. Source: Temanggung News

The cultivation of Vorstenlanden started in 1830 in Semarang, Central Java. At the time, tobacco was exported to cigar manufacturers in Europe. However, cigars were also becoming very popular among the Javanese royal families. It became the symbol of noble status within the society. It was believed that Indonesians who smoke cigars were equal to the Dutch, the colonizer. Not only in Java, the noblemen in Aceh, North Sumatera also smoked and offered cigars to their guests.

The commoners, on the other hand, smoked a different kind of cigarette. They combined the tobacco with various spices, such as clove, which is now famously known as kretek.

Even though tobacco and its ever-growing industry are not native to Indonesia, the utilization of tobacco has rooted itself in the Indonesian culture. One of the most interesting uses of tobacco is in sacred rituals, where it becomes a central part of the offering.

In North Sumatera, for example, the people use tobacco for a kinship ceremony called Huta Horja Bius. One of the rituals is called Hamohion, where all the attendees chew on tobacco together with betel, limestone, clove and areca-palm.

Other than traditional rituals, tobacco is also incorporated in literature. In Minang, West Sumatera, tobacco is mentioned in the famous literature, Randai. It is a folk theater performance that combines story-telling, drama, traditional dance, music and traditional martial arts. Randai is a symbol of local wisdom, unity and the tradition of Minang society. It is said in the story that:

Datuak baringin sonsang, baduo jo pandeka kilek, hisoklah rokok nan sebatang, supayo rundiangan naknyo dapek”. (When tobacco has been burnt and savored, talk and deliberation can be started.)

Looking at this statement, tobacco is used as a symbol of authority. It is the marker or the approval that one’s convocation and decision is official and legitimate under the customary law. Furthermore, tobacco is also used as an idiom for invitation, inauguration and unification.

In West Java, tobacco also serves as a symbol of wellbeing. The wedding ceremonies use tobacco as part of the Ngeyeuk Seureuh ritual. Both the bride and groom scramble among different items—egg, areca-palm, betel, tobacco and looms—in a basket, covered by a fabric, whichever they retrieve represents the aspect of life that will bring them good luck. Additionally, tobacco is used in Central Sulawesi as an offering at baby shower ceremonies known as Kantiana, which is usually practiced during the first pregnancy.

Watch “Tradition, Religion and Tobacco” | This video is an interesting documentary on the relationship between tobacco smoking and tradition in Indonesia. It begins with a group of people who are reading the Qur’an, known as pengajian, and combining it with music and singing. During the procession, there are cigarettes and people are smoking occasionally. It’s a strong statement made by the maker of this video, because it shows how even during a spiritual or religious ceremony, smoking is one of those elements that are never forgotten.

Culture and customs exist in societies to provide guidelines for conduct in communities, including tobacco smoking. Despite the introduction of modern knowledge about health risk, traditional custom remains important to various communities in Indonesia. Tobacco is an essential infrastructure in terms of its collective social value. The communality of Indonesia’s population is united partly by tobacco. It has the ability to open up the gate to new relationships and serves as a communication tool as well.

The consumption of tobacco is largely communal. The way cigarettes are offered, for example, where they are placed in the middle of the table for everyone to take freely, represents the notion of sharing: “what’s mine is also yours.” The mind and body react to tobacco sharing with openness and ease in such settings because tobacco is used as a means to break the ice between individuals. In ritual settings, on the other hand, the mind and body react to tobacco with respect, for its role as an offering to a higher power.

An Indonesian humanist, Mohammad Sobary, emphasized, “Tobacco is a determining and solidifying factor of our culture. Smoking is part of our tradition and life.” Without tobacco some societies could not perform in a normal fashion. It has always been present there amongst the people and their culture. Thus, it is not just about fulfilling an individual’s need for smoking, but rather it is used to connect individuals with one another.

Watch “They Who Exceed Time”This video is very interesting to me because it is able to capture the traditional soul of tobacco smoking among the older generation in Indonesia. By showing these people who have never fallen sick, in relation to their smoking habit, and who are able to have a long life, the creator of this video is emphasizing on the importance of the diverse health value or perception. How these people are exceeding time by being happy living in their community. How these people maintain their productivity and role in the society.

Reliance | Tobacco for People’s Economy

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.37.39 PM

Around 10 million people work in the tobacco industry in Indonesia, which amounts to about 10 percent of the entire workforce. In 2010, these people helped to contribute US$ 4.8 billion in excise taxes to the government; four times more than that which is produced by the mining sector, around US$ 1.06 billion. The ability of the tobacco industry to produce huge numbers by only consuming around 157 thousand acres of land is staggering in comparison to the mining sector, which utilizes around 42 million acres of land.

In one decade, from 1990 until early 2000, the excise tax income of Indonesia increased by 100 percent and 95 percent of it came from the tobacco industry. The industry comprises of machine-made clove cigarettes, hand-made clove cigarettes and machine-made white cigarettes. In 2013, tobacco contributed US$ 8 billion to the government, not including the clove industry, whose 98 percent of its production is absorbed within the national clove cigarette manufacture.

However, clove cigarette health critiques killed many small-scale tobacco industries. As a result, transnational companies seized the opportunity and took over the national market. Some of the national companies that were bought by transnational firms were Sampoerna by Philip Morris International in 2005 and Bentoel by British American Tobacco in 2009.

Not only did the buyout of these national companies lead to the dismissal of local workers due to mechanization, but the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) also contributed. FCTC is an international agreement to limit the production, distribution and marketing of tobacco. It conveys very strong anti-tobacco message.

The Health Ministry of Indonesia supports the ratification of FCTC, however, the Ministry of Industry strongly refuses it. According to the latter, tobacco, especially the clove industry contributes to three aspects: a “heritage” industry, excite tax income and saturation of workforce.

As the Head of Tobacco Entrepreneur Forum (Kudus, Central Java), Havas Gunawan explained, the FCTC will definitely eliminate local businesses. He believes that the agreement will try to uniform the variety of cigarette products, leading to the death of clove cigarette production.

Source: Indonesia Tobacco Society Alliance (Aliansi Masyarakat Tembakau Indonesia)

Tobacco farmers protested against cigarette box plain packaging. The poster is a satirical message that demanded alcohol packaging should be treated the same. Both tobacco and alcohol are big industries in Indonesia. Yet, tobacco is criticized a lot more by the Ministry of Health. Therefore, these farmers are asking for the same treatment toward alcohol industry, which is also claimed to be unhealthy and one of the biggest cause of accidents (drunken-driving). Source: Indonesia Tobacco Society Alliance (Aliansi Masyarakat Tembakau Indonesia).



An old tobacco farmer stacking leaves for shipping. Woman is a huge part the tobacco manufacturing in Indonesia, whether working in factories or becoming local producers. Source:

He also noted that 1.25 million people work as tobacco and clove farmers, 10 million people work directly in the production line, and 24.4 million people work for the industry but not directly in the manufacture, which includes small retailers. The end of clove cigarette industry affects the welfare of a wide range of workers in Indonesia.

Some regions in Indonesia depend on tobacco farming and have made their tobacco popular both nationally and internationally. Because of this abundance, most people who live in those areas choose to be tobacco farmers.

The Pamekasan District in Madura is one of the biggest tobacco producing regions, which amounts to around 31,251 acres of land use. Another region that’s well known for its tobacco production is the Jember District in East Java. In fact, the plantations have been turned into sightseeing attractions, allowing for the industry to open up new economic opportunities. At these tourism spots, visitors get a tour to the plantation, warehouse, sorting and packaging area and they get to see the process of crafting handmade cigars.

The web of tobacco production in Indonesia is complex. It involves the livelihood of millions of local people. The abundance of tobacco and the clove industry has definitely been responsible for providing a source of income for many families dating back to hundreds of years ago. To destroy this industry would mean diminishing these families who have participated in vitalizing it.


Fortune | Tobacco as Commodity

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.42.13 PM

Kretek, clove cigarette, is a variation of tobacco that is originally made in Indonesia. It was first found by H. Djamhari in the 19th century as a cure for chest pain. Due to its popularity as a pain reliever, an entrepreneur in Kudus, Central Java, Nitisemito, developed kretek into a brand called “Bal Tiga.” The business grew exponentially, and it also helped provide jobs for the locals. The hiring process was unique, in which the company used the abon system, where the workers produced the cigarette at home—with materials given by the company—and then returned the finished products. For over thirty years, the kretek industry has managed to dominate 93 percent of the tobacco market in Indonesia.

The war to dominate the tobacco industry between nations and multinational firms serves as a model for the infrastructure of commodity control. It is no surprise that tobacco will always be criticized and yet praised at the same time. For many, it is deadly, but for many others it’s the pulse of life.


Source: Indonesia Tobacco Society Alliance (Aliansi Masyarakat Tembakau Indonesia)

Source: Indonesia Tobacco Society Alliance (Aliansi Masyarakat Tembakau Indonesia)

The huge tobacco market in Indonesia invites global players from the United States, Europe and Asia. Among the famous company names are British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Philip Morris International. As a matter of fact, Indonesia has become one of the most important tobacco-products manufacturers with a very low production cost due to the abundance of raw materials and cheap labor cost. With the big players starting to establish themselves in the country, kretek is challenged in its popularity and its sale. The hand rolled cigarettes were outdone by the machine-made white cigarettes due to its fast production. However, new products like white cigarettes never really trampled the sale of kretek

To be on top of the game, these companies used political routes to create restrictions unbeneficial to indigenous kretek producer. Through the International Monetary Fund, Indonesia was required to impose new laws on tobacco control before it could acquire any loans. Being in a deep economic crisis in 1998, the government responded by issuing Government Regulation No. 81 of 1999. The new law limited the level of tar and nicotine to 10 mg and 1 mg. This was impossible for kretek companies to comply with because the tobacco produced to make kretek contained more than those stated limits. Ironically, the kretek industry was one of very few industries that remained resilient during the crisis because it did not depend on imported materials. In fact, only 4 percent of kretek’s contents are imported products. Therefore, in 2003 the government revoked the regulation to protect thousands of national cigarette companies.

Watch “Kretek is not Cigarette”This is a concise video that explains the different between white cigarette and kretek. Many Indonesians believe that kretek is the wealth of Indonesia and that it needs to be protected and preserved.


Thousands of people, mostly women, are working as kretek roller at the Sampoerna Factory. This Indonesian company has provided millions of job opportunities.

The failure to impose the restrictions pressed global cigarette firms to acquire the kretek companies. In 2005, Philip Morris International bought PT. H.M. Sampoerna Tbk, the leader of the kretek market in Indonesia. With this acquisition, Philip Morris Indonesia had the advantage to steer the tobacco market in the country.

As an Indonesian humanist, Mohammad Sobary, said kretek has boosted Indonesia’s economy by its triumph in the international market, which made it a very attractive business to possess.

Oddly, when the anti-smoking campaign became more intense in Indonesia, the amount of import tobacco increased. According to the data from Komunitas Kretek, a collective group of kretek advocates, in 2007, tobacco import reached 69,742 tons in comparison to 48,142 tons in 2005. And has now reached an all-time high at 520,000 tons per year.

Furthermore, before the acquisition of two of the largest kretek producers by Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, these two global players were part of the anti-smoking campaign, raising the issue of high tar and nicotine content in kretek. Yet, after the buyout, Philip Morris International became the market leader of three types of cigarettes: white cigarettes, kretek and lower tar cigarettes.

According to Forbes, this market domination by Philip Morris International in Indonesia will continue or even increase because the government regulations do not restrict the company to the point that it loses revenue. Furthermore, cigarettes are available at a very low cost, only around US$1.20 per pack of 20. In fact, the largest portion of the population that contributes to cigarette purchase is lower and middle class people.

Now, with kretek being very successful in many parts of the world, the United States government tried to control its distribution to protect their own products. Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act Section 907 banned kretek distribution in the United States, while allowing menthol cigarettes to freely circulate. The law, however, is supposed to forbid all kinds of aromatic cigarettes, which includes menthol. The United States government defended their stance by claiming that kretek is more dangerous than menthol cigarettes.

Indonesia contested this ruling through the World Trade Organization dispute settlement in 2012, and it was decided that the United States violated the Technical Barriers to Trade for discriminating kretek. Yet, despite the disproval from the WTO, today the United States government still prohibits kretek selling.

What started as a traditional and local source of income, has now become the source of global wealth. The accumulation of capital and the establishment of multinational firms is the reduction of return and the collapse of economic and political autonomy of a nation. And all those, through the tobacco industry war.


Self | Engineering Perceptions Through Images

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.44.06 PM

Fetishism, hedonism, and consumerism are probably words that best describe America in the 1950s—a period when people identified themselves with products. With the expansion of commodification in the United States and other capitalist industrialized nations, image and persuasion became equally as important as production. Thus, the psychoanalytic approach was used to study consumer behavior, which then serves as the foundation for good marketing strategies.

Ernest Dichter, an Austrian-American psychologist, was known to be the first to invent the term focus group. He studied the hidden wants that the consumers had in relation to the products they were using. This included the feeling of pride, confidence, satisfaction and even guilt. In a documentary titled “The Century of The Self: The Engineering of Consent” Ernest’s wife, Hedy Dichter, explains that products have become the security blanket for many people.

“If you identify yourself with a product, it can have a therapeutic value. It improves your self-image. And you become a more secure person and you have suddenly this confidence of going out in the world and doing what you want successfully.”

Below are some of the cigarette commercials that promote masculinity | Most of the cigarette commercials in Indonesia promote masculinity because they are targeting males. I believe the advertisements are successful in subliminally create a certain perception of self among Indonesian males. However, I also think that the smoking habit, picked up by male smokers, is not necessarily related to the advertisements. At least, the effect is not direct or immediate. However, I have heard someone said, “you’re a guy, how come you don’t smoke.”

The power of psychoanalysis to understand human behavior and desire was then utilized to manipulate the people and to support business and mass production.

In an interview in 1967, Herbert Marcuse criticized such practice:

“This is a childish application of psychoanalysis, which does not take at all into consideration the very real political systematic waste of resources of technology and of the productive process. For example, this planned obsolescence; for example the production of innumerable brands and gadgets who are in the last analysis always the same; the production of innumerable different models of automobiles; and this prosperity at the same time, consciously or unconsciously leads to a kind of schizophrenic existence. I believe that in this society an incredible quantum of aggressiveness and destructiveness is accumulated precisely because of the empty prosperity, which then simply erupts.” (Youtube-put in URL)

Now, how does the society identify with cigarettes? How do cigarettes make these people feel?

According to Allan Brandt in his book The Cigarette Century, cigarette smoking delineates “cultural idioms of gender and sexuality, autonomy and agency, in a new age of consumer motivation and design.” (Brandt, 2009, 69)

These associations to cigarette smoking are not only in the United States, but evidently also applicable to the modern idea of self in Indonesia. As a matter of fact, advertising plays a huge part in shaping specific images related to smoking.

The Chairman of Tobacco Control and Support Center, Kartono Muhammad, pointed out that the media portrayals of bravery, strength and masculinity are very misleading. He believes that the impact of cigarette smoking is actually the opposite: “Cigarette smoking will make people sick, very far from being strong.”

Moreover, cigarette companies also see the prospect of targeting women. The number of female smokers has risen fourfold from 1995 to 2007. Smoking habits among the population of women is affected by the lifestyle that has shifted within the modernized society. The images of modern, glamorous, independent and maturity are the triggers for women to start the habit.

Advertisement with the presence of masculinity and female companion | Below is one of the examples of female companion or female as accessories in the cigarette commercials. The message here is that as a masculine guy, ideally, one would have a community from the same economic class, successful, cutting edge and surrounded by fun things including girls (in the background, only as an accessory to one’s life).

The ideas of gender in Indonesia is a complicated one; inconsistent, contradictive and uneven in its application. In many traditional communities, for example, the women are allowed to earn money for the family, such as from farming or trading goods. However, they are not allowed to hold a powerful position in the community. The construction of gender role in Indonesia, was briefly influenced by the Dutchmen during the colonial period. And then, after its independence, Indonesia was dominated and governed by wealthy, educated men, which started to strengthen the patriarchal value within the society. “Throughout the 20th century the Indonesian state upheld the notion of kodrat, or natural destiny. For men and women, projecting mean as primary income-earners and woman as child-rearers and housewives. (Blackburn, 2004, 11) So now, with the development of gender equality demands around the globe, Indonesian women are also jumping into the action by demanding equality in different aspects of life, from employment opportunities to having the same habit such as smoking.

Throughout history, however, women have long been depicted in cigarette advertisement as an “accessory” to smoking men. The role changes overtime, women have now too become a central part of that urban lifestyle. They are no longer accessories. “I smoke therefore I’m living the life.”

With the commodification of body, self and lifestyle, cigarette ads are the secret weapon to attract this new urbanized entity. Now, cigarettes are a tool to participate in gender struggle. Women refuse to recognize cigarettes as an exclusive commodity for men. They want equality in the society, including having the right to smoke cigarettes, which used to be taboo. The ideological function of cigarette smoking is the one that encourages urban women to embrace the habit.

In comparison, the older generation, predominantly women who live in villages or more rural areas, adopted the habit as part of their tradition, usually smoking kretek, a locally made clove cigarette. They don’t really perceive cigarettes as an ideological symbol. However, the urban dwellers care about the kind of cigarettes they are smoking: the brand, the size and even the package. After all, it is used for building a specific image.

Some critics pointed out that these ads affected the society starting from an early age; the cigarette advertisements specifically targeted young people. Based on statistics by the National Commission for Child Protection in 2007, more than 99 percent of teenagers have seen tobacco commercials on television and around 86 percent of them have seen outdoor advertising.

Ironically, there is almost no component of Indonesia’s general public that is not supported by tobacco industry. This image occurs in every aspect of life including an active, healthy life such as national sports.

Large cigarette companies contribute their money to athletic teams and leagues. One of the largest cigarette companies, Djarum, has a badminton association, which fosters national athletes, who have won numerous international competitions. Other examples include Sampoerna that has supported a volleyball league since 2001 and Gudang Garam that chooses to support automotive sports. With these funds, the companies prove themselves to be very nationalistic by successfully ushering Indonesia to the global stage through sports. Also, by supporting sports, these cigarette brands appear to be very positive and “cool” for youngsters, who are a big market for the sport industry.

Moreover, cigarette companies are also dominating the music scene by using famous local bands to perform their jingles. Music concerts are also sponsored by cigarette brands. Again, the perception of “cool” by smoking is subliminally inserted through these sponsorships.

Whether it’s masculine, sexy, independent or cool, cigarettes have become the fetish of the Indonesian society. It is not just an infrastructure of substance addiction, but also ideology and self-production.

Cigarette commercials are often seen in public spaces in Indonesia. For many years, these commercials are freely posted on big billboards. Today, some local governments have the initiative to ban cigarette commercials on billboards. Below are some of the examples that are still advertised.

Feb19 Mampang - Tendean

Feb19 Kawasan SCBD (1)

Feb19 Kawasan SCBD (2)

Fear and Disgust | Constructing Behavioural Change

A primary school student smokes in his room, in his school uniform. This habit is common among kids in Indonesia. In fact, the average earliest smoking age is 7 years old. (Source:

A primary school student smokes in his room, in his school uniform. This habit is common among kids in Indonesia. In fact, the average earliest smoking age is 7 years old. (Source:


Feb18 Starbucks Mega Kuningan (2)

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Health requires 40% of the cigarette box to be used for visual warning.


It is now customarily displayed on a cigarette box in some countries―Australia, Canada, Uruguay, Indonesia and many more―premature babies, rotting teeth, bloody feet with gangrene, black lungs, mouth cancer, bladder cancer, and even a dead person. These images are the hope to stop cigarette smoking. Governments and health organizations have chosen this tactic to counter their formidable foe, the cigarette companies, in the persuasion war.

Causes and effects are understood to be the most significant tool to encourage behavioral change. As the American psychologist Leon Festinger concludes, humans have a tendency to balance their belief with their action. The deduction of the Cognitive Dissonance theory is that whenever there’s an inconsistency between belief and action (dissonance), humans are motivated to change their behavior to restore harmony (Festinger, 1957). Humans hold a certain perception about themselves and their surroundings; when this perception is fazed, they will feel uncomfortable and they will be inclined to find a way in reaching the comfortable level again. Because cognitive dissonance is a form of social comparison, one way to induce it is to increase or decrease the attractiveness of a subject or object.

Governments and health organizations around the world are implementing this theory―consciously or not―to encourage behavioral changes, especially in cigarette smoking. But does it really work?

A report by Deborah M. Scharf and William G. Sadel said that while most people are disgusted by the graphic warning, there hasn’t been any significant evidence of its effects on cigarette smoking initiation and cessation. In fact, the campaign also has the potential to encourage people to do the opposite. Many smokers found the anti-smoking campaign insulting and annoying (Wolburg, 2006; Erceg-Hurn &Steed, 2011). As a result, they smoke more in resistance. However, in Canada, only one percent of studied individuals smoke more after seeing the graphic warning, while 19 percent of them smoke less (Hammond et al., 2004; Erceg-Hurn &Steed, 2011).

There are conflicting conclusions regarding the use of graphic warnings on cigarette boxes. Further, complicating the theory is the tradition of smoking in many parts of the world; not only an urban lifestyle, but also a custom within a certain society, for instance in Indonesia. The modernization of the country however, has switched the paradigm of smoking into a lifestyle that portrays independence, sexual appeal and strength. Foreign cigarette companies play a huge role in introducing these images―attractive males and females demonstrating the habit in advertisements, making it seem necessary for one’s self-confidence. Advertisers target emotion.

While the attractiveness of cigarette smoking is promoted across many platforms (TV, print media, sponsorship by cigarette firms, etc.), fear and disgust is simultaneously introduced as well. “More emotionally intense message content evokes greater fear; messages that evoke higher levels of fear tend to be more persuasive in changing attitudes as well as intentions.” (Glenn Leshner, Paul Bolls and Erika Thomas, 2009)

Additionally, disgust may also affect how people react to the anti-tobacco campaign. As a matter of fact, many of the images displayed on the cigarette box are more to be perceived as disgusting than scary. There are specific disgust elicitors, among them are “food (e.g., contamination), animals (e.g., rats, insects), body product (e.g., urine, excrement), sex (e.g., certain sexual acts, incest), body envelope violations (e.g., surgery, organs, puncture wounds), death, and hygiene (e.g., dirt, germs). The negative graphic images that most often occur in anti-tobacco disgust messages are animals (e.g., insects), body product (e.g., urine), body envelope violations (e.g., organs), and hygiene (e.g., germs).” (Glenn Leshner, Paul Bolls and Erika Thomas, 2009)

In light of that, Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, Nafsiah Mboi, launched a public service announcement—similar to CDC’s campaign— a testimony of a former smoker who now lives with throat cancer. This anti-smoking campaign is broadcasted in movie theatres and seven TV stations.

Watch the Anti-Smoking public service announcement

The utilization of movie theatres is interesting because the government is taking advantage of its youthfulness, popularity and modernity; a place where young people congregate on the weekends, a time when they will most-likely be hanging out and smoking together. Mboi said that the target for this anti-smoking campaign is people aged 15 to 40 years old, and that’s the reason why she picked movie theaters to broadcast the campaign. The campaign, according to her, is to deny the negative allegations by pro-tobacco activists toward the Ministry of Health. The campaign is showing honest and palpable testimony, and there is no engineering in it. By showing the horrible effects of cigarette smoking, the government is hoping to prevent children and teenagers from initiating the smoking habit.

Feb18 Menara Rajawali

Feb19 Departemen Kesehatan RI (1)

Feb19 Departemen Kesehatan RI (2)

Anti-smoking campaign by the Ministry of Health, like the above, is not as intensive as the cigarette ads. The small intensity of the campaign is probably  the reason why cigarette ads have more effects on people, and the anti-smoking campaign is working very slowly.

Some restaurants in Indonesia still provide indoor smoking sections for diners.

Some restaurants in Indonesia still provide indoor smoking sections for diners.

This is an interesting relationship between the anti-tobacco campaign and the movie industry. Both of them are infrastructures that are tied to the younger generation. Both of them are entertainment and lifestyle infrastructures that support one‘s existence in the modern society. They are both also industries that are used to accumulate capital, which mostly go to the big players in the United States and somehow weaken Indonesia’s ability to be dependent upon its own creations and products.

Simple as it might seem, the persuasion war continues by fighting for public spaces and even public frequency. Cigarette ads in Indonesia can be seen almost everywhere, from the living room to the streets. Thus, the government is trying to control the utilization of these public domains by cigarette companies.

Apparently, broadcasting hour restriction—from 9:30 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.—for cigarette ads are not effective in reducing the number of smokers, especially the younger ones from picking up the habit. The data from Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2009 showed that 83 percent of teenagers see the ads on television. The Child Protection Committee also has a survey that concludes 50 percent of teenagers see themselves portrayed in the advertisements. Thus, the committee urges the House of Representatives to ratify a new law that will ban all kinds of cigarette advertisements.

The feud to control public frequency and spaces is commonsensical because advertisement and campaigns are most affective when introduced repetitively in people’s daily lives. Additionally, the power of media and visual messages play a huge role in influencing one’s desires and decisions. The space we are living in displays sexuality, independence, masculinity, disease and even death. Are you going to feel scared and disgusted, or attracted? You decide. Wait, maybe they decide.

Watch “Among the Powers that Control Cigarette Industry”


BBC, “The Century of the Self, The Engineering of Content (3 out of 6),” Economic Crisis Review video, 10:25, June 9, 2010,

BBC, “The Century of the Self, The Engineering of Content (6 out of 6),” Economic Crisis Review video, 08:39, June 9, 2010,

“Cuma Indonesia Yang Masih Ada Iklan Rokok,” Republika Penerbit, February 2014, accessed February 20, 2015,

Daryono, Iqbal A., “Subhanallah, Inilah Rahasia Kecerdasan Para Perokok,” Mojok.Co, January 30, 2015, accessed May 5, 2015,

Dewi Safitri, “Sponsor dan Iklan Rokok Belum Terganti,” BBC Indonesia, May 24, 2010, accessed February 20, 2015,

Explorable. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Last modified November 21, 2010. Accessed February 21, 2015.

Hafstad, A., L.E.Aaro, and F. Langmark. “Evaluation of an anti-smoking mass media campaign targeting adolescents: the role of affective responses and interpersonal communication.” Health Education Research 11 (1996): 29-38. Accessed February 21, 2015.

“Jumlah Perempuan Perokok di Indonesia Naik Empat Kali Lipat,” Tempo, May 26, 2012, accessed February 20, 2015,

Kurniawan, Zulvan. “Skema Pembunuhan Industri Kretek Nasional,” Komunitas Kretek, June 19, 2013, accessed February 20, 2015.

Leshner, Glenn, Paul Bolls, and Erika Thomas. “Scare’ Em or Disgust ’Em: The Effects of Graphic Health Promotion Messages.” Health Communication 24 (2009): 447–458. Accessed February 19, 2015. doi: 10.1080/10410230903023493.

Ng, Nawi, L. Weinehall, and A. Ohman. “If I don’t smoke, I’m not a real man’—Indonesian teenage boys’ views about smoking.” Health Education Research 22 (2007): 794-804. Accessed February 21, 2015.

“Pertunjukan Wayang Kulit, Mahakarya Seni Pertunjukan Jawa,” Yogyes, January 26, 2015, accessed May 5, 2015,

“Randai, the Distinct Minangkabau Performing Art Combining Literature, Music and Pencak Silat,” Wonderful Indonesia, accessed May 5, 2015,

“RI Siap Gugat Lagi Larangan AS oal Rokok Kretek,” Tempo, July 26, 2013, accessed February 21, 2015.

“Rokok Kretek Tidak Ada di Amerika,” Komunitas Kretek, August 8, 2012, accessed February 20, 2015.

Saul McLeod. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Last modified 2014. Accessed February 19, 2015,

Scharf, Deborah M., and William G. Shadel. “Graphic Warning Labels on Cigarettes Are Scary, but Do They Work?” The Rand Blog, September 30, 2014, accessed February 19, 2015.

Setyawan, Davit. “KPAI: Larangan Total Iklan Rokok Masuk RUU.” Last modified June 25, 2014. Accessed February 19, 2015.

Sobary, Mohamad. “Rokok Dalam Kebudayaan Kita.” Last modified April 3, 2010. Accessed February 20, 2015.

Susmana, A.J. “Lindungi Petani Tembakau Indonesia,” Membunuh Indonesia, June 1, 2014, accessed February 19, 2015.

“Tembakau Dalam Tradisi Nusantara,” Komunitas Kretek, March 9, 2014, accessed February 20, 2015.

Tribowo, Tri. “Potret Industri Rokok di Indonesia.” Kajian Ekonomi dan Keuangan 7 (2003): 83-107. Accessed February 19, 2015.

“Wanita Perokok Bertambah, Akibat Dari Modernisasi,” Ruang Kabar, June 1, 2014, accessed May 5, 2015,

Wijoyo, Dipo S., “Rokok Pribumi dan Sejarah Tembakau di Indonesia,” Venilegere, December 23, 2012, accessed May 5, 2015,

“WTO Bentuk Panel Bahas Larangan Kretek di Amerika,” Tempo, July 21, 2010, accessed February 21, 2015.

Thanks to:

Nariswari Dita Yudianti

Terry Aldie





Related Projects