Category Archives: Third World smoking

Indonesia, still the “Disneyland of smoking”

Yeah, a cigarette ad in Indonesia literally saying: “Don’t Quit”

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.

Not even subtly using sex to sell cigarettes in Indonesia.

From the Southeast Asia Globe:

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.

From a Quartz Media article:

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?”

Tobacco use dropping in India

Great news, cigarette smoking in India has dropped dramatically in just one year because of that country’s new tough stance against tobacco.

According to this story from the Daily News and Analysis of India, the smoking rate among men has dropped from 57 percent in 2006 to 44.8 percent in 2016. That’s still a really high smoking rate, but that represents a 21 percent drop in 10 years.

Among women, the smoking rate has dropped from 10.8 percent to 6.8 percent during that same time period.

From the Daily News and Analysis:

“The NFHS 4 results offer some hope. I attribute this reduction to mainly to gutka ban and partly to increased awareness,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, Oncologist, Tata Memorial Hospital. The National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4), the fourth in the NFHS series, provides information on population, health and nutrition for India and each State and Union territory.

“The reduction in consumption is due to the tobacco control laws that the Government is implementing over the years and steps taken like 85 percent graphic health warnings, Smoke Free Rules and Gutka Ban,” Bhavna Mukhopadhyay, Chief Executive Voluntary Health Association of India, said.

“The government needs to implement evidence based tobacco control policies to reduce further tobacco consumption as (1 million) people die due to tobacco use every year (in India). There is also an urgent need for higher tobacco taxes, as taxes in India are very low particularly the beedis and hope in the new GST regime, this will be addressed,” Mukhopadhyay said.

An Indian anti-smoking ad

While the Indian smoking rate for men is still astonishingly high, the drop in smoking in India is important because as smoking rates have utterly collapsed in the West, Big Tobacco is looking increasingly at overseas markets to make up for the shrinking markets in North America and Europe. India with its 1 billion-plus people is absolutely in the crosshairs as the biggest potential market in the world (since China’s market is 99 percent state controlled).

The country with the highest smoking rate — East Timor


If you had flat out asked me this question, what country has the highest smoking rate in the world, I might have said Belarus or Bulgaria, something like that. It’s not an Eastern European country, it’s a county called East Timor.

All right, having to whip out my atlas to see where the hell East Timor is.

East Timor is a tiny nation on the Indonesian island of Timor (but not part of Indonesia, sort of like Papua New Guinea.) It’s only 5,000 square miles and the population is about 1.1 million. It’s separate from Indonesia primarily because it was a longtime Portuguese colony, while most of the rest of Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch.

Anyway, enough geography lessons (reminds me of a really, really bad newspaper editor I once knew who for some mystifying reason decided to write a geography lesson sidebar about Yellowknife, NWT, because a fisherman from Yellowknife drowned in the area. Only problem was, throughout the article, he referred to it as “Yellowfish, NWT.” I had fun sending that article to the Yellowknife newspaper and seeing their angry editorial ripping on ignorant Americans. Anyway, I digress). According to this BBC article, East Timor has an incredible smoking rate of 61 percent among men — that percentage hasn’t been that high in America since about 1960. That’s just a shocking figure.

According to the article:

At the moment the big killer is tuberculosis but Dr Dan Murphy, a Canadian who’s been running a local hospital and clinic in Dili for 20 years, is worried about the future.

Some 80% of the world’s smokers live in developing countries and “young people are learning that what they’re supposed to do to be Western and advanced is to smoke cigarettes,” he says.

“Now we have to change their whole way of thinking and start worrying about tomorrow. I’m afraid we’re going to have to go through a phase of learning the hard lesson that’s been seen throughout poor countries.”

Another interesting part of the story is that East Timor has not seen a big influx of health problems connected to smoking. Why? Because it’s a brand new burgeoning market. Most of that 61 percent of men are young men who have only been smoking a few years. Give it another 10 and 20 years and watch East Timor’s medical infrastructure swamped with middle age men dying of COPD, heart disease and lung cancer.


What East Timor highlights is that the developing world, Third World, whatever you want to call it, is the future of the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry is in the midst of a long, slow decline in North America and western Europe. But, Africa and Asia markets await. Big Tobacco has been drooling over these markets for years (to the point where China very strictly controls western tobacco sales in its country).

These countries tend to be poor and don’t have the resources for tobacco education. Never mind the fact that the tobacco industry created a damn holocaust of death and disease in the West all during the 19th century, now that the West has gotten wise to the evils of tobacco, Big Tobacco wants to export their product to a new, unwitting market. It’s really beyond amoral, it’s just sick.

BTW, the BBC article created a nice infographic about the heaviest smoking countries in the world. I wasn’t far off with Bulgaria, it makes the top 6.

Countries with highest smoking rates

  • Kiribati
  • Macedonia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Bulgaria
  • Tonga
  • East Timor

Figures for 2012. Source: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published by JAMA

Kiribati is another country I’ve never heard of. Used to be called the Gilbert Islands.