Tobacco Genocide in Indonesia - Part 1

It is incomprehensible for public health campaigners in Indonesia to reconcile the lengths that tobacco marketers will go to in order to proliferate tobacco to young, poor, socially vulnerable, and impressionable young Indonesians.  Next to rice, tobacco is already Indonesia's second biggest household expense, surpassing the combined costs of meat, fish, milk and vegetables; utilities, health care, and education for the average Indonesian family. A critical component of the business model of tobacco companies is ensure that consumers start as early as possible, and keep consuming for as long as possible. 

The international community is not particularly surprised by the reckless disregard by tobacco companies for either the wellbeing or humanity of their customers, but the most recent brand launch has reached a new all time low. 

Literally hundreds of thousands of flags and banners have sprung up all over the Indonesian archipelago promoting the new Magnum Blue brand. The image to the left is the new brand of cigarette, and is quite clearly aimed at a particular demographic that already has a strong brand association with the product on the right, the Magnum Classic ice-cream. Sampoerna, which is now owned by Philip Morris International, owns the Magnum Blue brand of cigarette, whilst Magnum ice-cream brand is owned by Unilever. Saksara has asked Unilever to comment on the similarities of the two products, and how they feel about the quite obvious appropriation of their Magnum brand identity as a means to lure new consumers to their product. 


Sampoerna is no stranger to reckless marketing behaviour. The picture of the billboard bellow was prominent throughout Jakarta. It depicts two friends rescuing a third who appears to be falling from a bus. The caption is one of the most shocking and heartbreaking examples of the lows that Philip Morris will plunge in order to combat the very important public health messages that are aimed at preventing the senseless premature death associated with tobacco consumption. 

The sentence “Lebih baik pulang nama daripada tinggalkan teman;  Sampoerna - Temen yang Asyik”  translates as:

"It’s better to die than to leave your friend behind; Sampoerna - A fun friend.”

It is corporate behaviour that defies all sense of responsibility and reason. 


Another example of the mountains of cash that is spent by the tobacco giants to combat the quit smoking campaign is here to the left. L.A. Lights is one of Djarum brands, and the message that they really want to share with the public is simply DON'T QUIT, just DO IT. 

And "do it" they do. Data from the World Health Organization's Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) reveals that Indonesia has rapidly accelerated its tobacco consumption. In 1995 around 54% of Indonesian men were smoking, but this has risen sharply to 70% in 2011, making Indonesian men overwhelmingly the biggest smokers in the world. 


Indonesia Tobacco Facts

  • Estimated number of tobacco related deaths per year in Indonesia - 200,000 - 300,000
  • Percentage of the Indonesian workforce employed by the tobacco industry - Less than 1%
  • Percentage of Indonesian smokers who will die from a tobacco related disease - Around 50% or around 30 million current smokers. 
  • Number of Indonesian non-smokers routinely exposed to dangerous levels of second hand smoke - Around 100 million
  • Healthcare costs associated with tobacco related illnesses in Indonesia - Rp 11,000,000,000,000
  • Indonesian non-smokers who die from passive exposure to second hand smoke - 1 out of 8 smokers, or an estimated 25,000 - 35,000 per year. 
  • Percentage increase in Indonesian male children smoking in the past decade - 139%
  • Percentage of tobacco farmers in the agricultural sector overall - 1.2%

 Indonesia's outgoing Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi has consistently been embarrassed by the reports related to Indonesian tobacco industry. 

 “We have failed in protecting our people,” she said. “We have been defeated by the tobacco industry…"

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is an international public health treaty developed by all of World Health Organization (WHO) member states. Its objective is “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. 178 countries have ratified the treaty, but not yet Indonesia. It remains defeated by tobacco companies with enormous political influence. 

Meanwhile an estimated 700-800 Indonesians are dying each day from the devastating effects of tobacco. Small children are routinely denied growing up alongside their  grandfathers, wives lose their husbands, children lose their fathers, and the whole nation is suffering a silent yet horrific toll from what can only be described as a genocide. It can be reasonably argued that it is both mass and deliberate, and therefore genocidal.