Jakarta area hits smoke alarm over cigarettes

Neighbourhood declares itself a smoke-free zone, as groups hit back against Big Tobacco

Penas Tanggul, a neighbourhood in Jakarta, has houses in bright colours to urge residents to stop smoking and promote a smoke-free environment.
Penas Tanggul, a neighbourhood in Jakarta, has houses in bright colours to urge residents to stop smoking and promote a smoke-free environment.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • A neighbourhood in the Indonesian capital has informally declared itself a smoke-free zone, as students plan further protests against what they see as an increased effort by cigarette companies to target the young.

Indonesia has one of the highest rates of smoking in the world, and is also the fourth-biggest cigarette producer, mostly of the pungent "kretek" clove and tobacco variety, but Parliament has proposed a law to boost tobacco output further.

A few groups are now pushing back against Big Tobacco in the country of 250 million people, where nearly two-thirds of men smoke and a cigarette pack can cost less than US$2 (S$2.80).

In the Penas Tanggul neighbourhood of eastern Jakarta, a row of brightly painted houses sports a blue banner near the entrance declaring it a smoke-free zone

Its residents have been encouraged to stop or to avoid smoking "so this neighbourhood will not just be beautiful, but also healthy", said Mr Nobby Sail Andi Supu, a 22-year-old student who coordinated the programme with a civic group.

About 200 people, mostly students, rallied last month against an upcoming industry exhibition of cigarette-making machines in Jakarta, and are planning another protest, said Mr Manik Marganamahendra, one of the organisers.

Cigarette companies are targeting young Indonesians with new products such as fruit-flavoured cigarettes, as well as attractive packaging and advertisements, said Mr Manik, 20. "We actually want the cigarette industry to totally disappear, but it can't happen overnight.

"We would like to remove the dependence of the Indonesian people on cigarettes."

Despite health concerns, the tobacco industry is often defended in Indonesia by politicians and others as an important source of income for farmers and revenue for the government. Indonesia produced 269.2 billion cigarettes in 2015, according to research firm Euromonitor International. The market was valued at 231.3 trillion rupiah (S$24.4 billion) and growing fast.

Major cigarette companies operating in the country include Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, which is controlled by United States giant Philip Morris, Djarum Group and Gudang Garam Tbk.

Back in Penas Tanggul, 18-year- old Kholid Wahyudi said he felt the pressure to cut back on smoking after his neighbourhood went smoke-free. "I feel embarrassed here, especially when I'm with my friends who don't smoke," the high school student said.

"I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, but now I can reduce it to two to three sticks."

But underscoring the challenge of spreading the anti-smoking message to other parts of Indonesia, several construction workers near Penas Tanggul were seen puffing away.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Jakarta area hits smoke alarm over cigarettes'. Subscribe