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Buy fantasy fun, light up, die young

By Duncan Graham - posted Monday, 28 May 2018

Indonesian law prohibits images of users lighting up, which worries the industry not one flick of a fag. Why show gap-tooth yellow-gum inhalers facing agonising departures? Better promote bright young things entering a life of escapades and fun in exotic spots.

The guys race up mountains, skydive, kitesurf and jetski – pastimes which need lusty lungs, not bronchitis.

Megabuck videos mimic Nat Geo adventures in wild places, the hazards challenged by guys in four-wheel drives while pretty lassies laugh approval of their blokey behaviour. This being Indonesia the cheerers are modestly dressed, because the people's morality must not be damaged.


An estimated 67 per cent of adult males smoke, though only three per cent of women do because many associate the habit with prostitution. Laws force advertisers to add health warnings, but not as the main message. Alerts are footnotes or absent on the posters the big brands use above their logos to sponsor youth concerts.

The descriptor 'mild' is supposed to be off limits so one company has invented MLD, highlighting the vertical stroke on the L.

Brands advertise special manufacturing techniques like 'triple roasted'. One claims it's using 'reduced smell technology'.

A year ago reports forecasting a total TV and radio ad shut-down set the broadcasters quivering; they get more than half a billion Oz dollars a year pushing nicotine, arguing that since smoking is legal they have the right to screen.

The threatened TV ban quickly vanished; now companies want heritage status for kretek cigarettes, which use cloves and were developed in Indonesia in the 19th century. If successful, promotions could bypass other controls.

Every assault on profits, however MLD, is countered. Politicians are prodded to remember half a million growers and 600,000 factory workers, mostly women who'd have few other job prospects, depend on selling death.


The tax take rises every year. A 10.4 per cent excise ramp-up is scheduled for July, though 13 per cent was originally proposed. So manufacturers have been playing with sizes and running a price war, promoting one company offering 16 for Rp 10,000 ($ 1).

A pack of 25 in Australia can now cost more than $35.

Statistics are contradictory: Customs and Excise says sales in Indonesia dropped last year by 1.6 per cent – others claim production rose 13 per cent, boosting government revenue to USD 14 billion.

Measure this against Australia: With a population one-tenth of Indonesia's and where less than 15 per cent smoke, the government reaps almost $10.7 billion.

The other hoary line is that ads are designed to get smokers to switch brands, not encourage uptake. However a Muhammadiyah University study showed almost half the smoking teens surveyed started because they identified with the lads in the ads. The World Health Organisation reckons one in four teen boys carry smokes in their school satchels.

Though supplying minors is illegal the kids have no trouble buying – though not from Ibu Liya's warung where she takes her principled but solitary stand.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
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 Duncan Graham has written another article on the same subject.

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About the Author

Duncan Graham is a Perth journalist who now lives in Indonesia in winter and New Zealand in summer. He is the author of The People Next Door (University of Western Australia Press) and Doing Business Next Door (Wordstars). He blogs atIndonesia Now.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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