Tobacco Companies Target Hearts and Minds of Smokers
Indonesian tobacco companies are using cultural devices to appeal to their target markets, leavingIndonesiariddled with smoking advertising and smokers.
Developing countries such asIndonesiaare the last bastions for cigarette companies to gain ground in the market through recruits and the perpetuation of smokers’ habits.
Indonesian restrictions on smoking are lax because, according to a 2009 research report written by Mimi Nichter and colleagues in the Tobacco Control Journal, tobacco companies are one of the largest sources of government revenue and are both politically and financially powerful.
“As a result there are few restrictions on tobacco marketing and advertising. Tobacco advertising inIndonesiais among the most aggressive and innovative in the world and tobacco advertisements saturate the environment,” the report said”.
Cigarette advertisements are everywhere in order to remain in the public consciousness as normal and natural.
They monopolise billboard space and, according to the report, run at a rate of 15-20 advertisements per hour on television between 9:30pm and 5:00am.
Tobacco companies sponsor sporting events, concerts, cultural events, movie production companies, they advertise at election campaigns, school canteens and give scholarships to students.
They even give money to urban neighbourhoods for putting up advertising on their entry gates and award prizes for creative presentation; money that goes toward improving community facilities like street lights and garnering community support.
According to Nichter this creates prestige and credibility for tobacco brands, as well as loyalty and political power at the level of local communities and gratitude from recipient organisations.
“It also serves to socially legitimise and normalise smoking and to produce allies among community members for the industry”.
Nichter and her research team said the tobacco industry also exploits culture as a means to sell cigarettes.
“The tobacco industry reads, reproduces and works with culture as a means of selling cigarettes,” they said.
“Kretek tobacco companies represent themselves as supporters of Indonesian national identity. At a time of intensified globalisation, when national identity is being negotiated through the consumption of branded products, kretek advertisements reflect core cultural values and aspirations while creating new cultural reference points, defining new values which they are uniquely positioned to exploit”.
Scientific and medical facts are blurred by propaganda that disputes the harmful effects of smoking, indeed, debates are continuing in a judicial review over wether smoking is actually addictive.
Professor Sumitro, a molecular biologist at Brawijaya University, quoted on Radio Australia, said cigarettes are only addictive for certain people and it depends on how your body reacts.
He also said he thinks clove cigarettes could be beneficial to the human body but more research needs to be done.
The deliberate attempts to embed ambiguity around tobacco effects included some witnesses saying tobacco is halal and can be good for one’s health.
These opinions go against generally accepted scientific evidence that stipulates tobacco is addictive and smoking is harmful to health.
Yet the government believes lowering the rates of smoking is more harmful as tobacco is the fourth largest source of government revenue behind oil timber and gas.
Director of Litigation for the Justice Ministry, Mualimin Abdi, said the Indonesian government gathers six billion US dollars in tobacco taxes each year.
The Minister of Finance said, “I sympathise with the idea of getting people to stop smoking, but for now the cost is too high”.
Eleven million jobs are dependent on the tobacco industry, so the government is reluctant to make serious attempts to curb smoking by taking them on.
Yet the World Health organisation said 400 000 people die of smoking related diseases each year, costing the government much more economically in mortality and disability.
The Tobacco Free Union said 97 million non-smokers are regularly exposed to second hand smoke.
Since, as Nichter reports, 62 percent of Indonesian men smoke and only 1-3 percent of women, this means that men are exposing their families, pregnant wives and children to smoking related diseases.
It also means that young boys start smoking earlier as they emulate male role models and associate smoking with masculine cultural practices.
“A quarter of urban and rural 10 year old boys are already smoking” Nichter said.
A 2010 decree that bans smoking in restaurants and enclosed public places has been largely ignored by smokers; the smoke filled domestic airport inJakartais illustrative of what many say is the law’s failure.
The Jakarta Globe reported in January that the ban had “fizzled out” citing observations of people smoking in the children’s sections of food courts and throughout restaurants and cafes in major shopping centres and public buildings.
Despite the many signs and banners forbidding smoking, employees and smoking patrons interviewed by The Jakarta Globe asserted they were unaware of the ban.
Smoking has been successfully marketed and embedded as a cultural component; the cigarette industry has manufactured consent and had the support of government for so long that publics are tolerant of smokers to the point where those flouting the law by smoking around a hospital or in an airport, university, school or restaurant will rarely be asked to stop or go outside by other patrons or employees.
The saturation of cigarette advertising is one aspect that manufactures consent because smoking appears relevant, important, and part of the cultural landscape, however the use of propaganda and myth to dilute the potency of health warnings has potentially created the biggest setback by placing doubt in people’s minds.
Smoking is represented as culturally significant but its harmful effects are positioned as ambiguous.
The lack of restrictions further exploits the lack of public awareness about the realities of smoking.
Nichters report found that smokers greatly underestimated the harm caused by tobacco use and thought the effects were mostly confined to cancer in high level cigarette consumption.
Entertaining a judicial review to investigate claims that tobacco is not yet a proven addictive substance only perpetuates myths that cigarettes are benign.
The cigarette industry hampers efforts to educate smokers by derailing public education with campaigns and lobby groups that protest anti smoking laws and obligatory health warnings.
These diversionary measures lend credibility to the image of smokers as victims of a conspiracy to limit their rights.
An example of this are protests in Jakarta, including one yesterday by cigarette retailers, and by smokers who use media attention to help spread the message that smokers’ personal freedoms and rights are restricted by the 2010 decree.
Indonesiahas yet to ratify the World Health Organisation’s framework on tobacco control, as well as reconcile its economically and culturally established tobacco industry with the harmful and avoidable realities of smoking.