Speaking of tobacco and emerging markets: The tobacco industry has poured a ton of its resources into Indonesia. This nation of 250 million people has one of the highest smoking rates in the world at about 40 percent (70 million-plus smokers, compared to about 40-45 million smokers in the U.S.).
And there are few if any restrictions on smoking, smoking advertising or packaging. In fact, you will find cigarette advertising literally right outside of schools in Indonesia.
Emerging markets — really big emerging markets like Indonesia, the Philippines, India and pretty much all of South America and Africa — are the international tobacco industry’s solution to remaining a financial juggernaut despite the plummeting smoking rate and stricter laws regulating tobacco in the West. In fact, Indonesia is on track with its lack of any semblance of regulation and its huge population to become the biggest tobacco market in the world.
The end result is a looming public health disaster. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Indonesia has one of the highest male smoking rates in the world at 67% – and the number of women lighting up is rising fast as well, partly due to role models such as the popular, chain-smoking fisheries minister Susi Pudjiastuti breaking down gender norms. The impacts are already huge, with the WHO estimating that smoking claims about 425,000 Indonesian lives each year – nearly a quarter of the country’s annual deaths. Some media outlets have even begun referring to the country as ‘Tobaccoland’.
And Indonesia is a country with a depressing and well-publicized issue with childhood smoking.
And it is no accident either, according to Mark Hurley, the Indonesian director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“These tactics are used by international giants like Philip Morris and Indonesian brands alike because tobacco companies rely on luring in youth to replace those who die or quit smoking,” he says. “It’s part of their deadly playbook.”
A survey conducted in 2016 found 85% of schools surveyed in five Indonesian cities were surrounded by tobacco advertisements. And according to Purnomo from the smokers’ rights group, their campaigns appear to be working.
Experts say the tobacco companies’ corporate social responsibility programs are merely a strategy to further entrench their products into society and do little social good. “Through their CSR activities, the Indonesian tobacco companies have precisely ignored the negative impacts of tobacco,” said a recent report from the Online Journal of Health Ethics.
It is tobacco’s entrenched status in Indonesian society that makes fighting tobacco so difficult for campaigners, who are often labelled agents of US pharma giants trying to bring down Indonesia’s sovereignty.
… Philip Morris International remains confident about Indonesia. The company’s 2016 investor day presentation (pdf) said Indonesia shows “favourable market demographics over the long term.” Another slide was titled, “Indonesia: Positives results from recent new launches.”
It seems the tobacco industry is counting on Jakartans like 19-year-old Ayu (who like many Indonesians goes by one name), who says she is too addicted to quit and will continue to smoke despite the harms.
“My friends all smoke, my colleagues all smoke. The whole damn city smokes,” she says. “How am I ever going to quit?”