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Reading culture from tobacco advertisements in Indonesia
  1. Mimi Nichter1,
  2. Siwi Padmawati2,
  3. Yayi Prabandari2,
  4. Nawi Ng2,
  5. Mahesto Danardono2,
  6. Mark Nichter1
  1. 1 University of Arizona, United States;
  2. 2 Gadjah Mada University, Indonesia
  1. E-mail: mimin{at}


Background: Tobacco advertising in Indonesia is among the most aggressive and innovative in the world, and tobacco advertisements literally saturate the environment. Tobacco companies are both politically and financially powerful in the country because they are one of the largest sources of government revenue. As a result, there are few restrictions on tobacco marketing and advertising. National surveys reveal that 62% of men and 1–3% of women are smokers. Over 90% of smokers smoke clove cigarettes, kretek. This paper examines the social and cultural reasons for smoking in Indonesia and discusses how the advertising industry reads, reproduces, and works with culture as a means of selling cigarettes. An analysis is provided of how kretek tobacco companies represent themselves as supporters of Indonesian national identity. This analysis is used to identify strategies to break the chains of positive association that currently support widespread smoking.

Methods: Between November 2001 and March 2007, tobacco advertisements were collected from a variety of sources, including newspapers and magazines. Frequent photographic documentation was made of ads on billboards and in magazines. Advertisements were segmented into thematic units to facilitate analysis. Thirty interviews were conducted with smokers to explore benefits and risks of smoking, perceptions of advertisements, and brand preferences. Focus groups were conducted to explore and pretest counter advertisements.

Results: Key themes were identified in tobacco advertisements including control of emotions, smoking to enhance masculinity, and smoking as a means to uphold traditional values while simultaneously emphasizing modernity and globalisation. Some kretek advertisements are comprised of indirect commentaries inviting the viewer to reflect on the political situation and one’s position in society.

Conclusions: After identifying key cultural themes in cigarette advertisements, our research group is now attempting to engage the tobacco industry on “cultural ground”. To do this, we will need to take back social spaces that the tobacco industry has laid claim to through advertising. Active monitoring and surveillance of tobacco advertising strategies is necessary and legislation and enforcement to curb the industry should be put in place.

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