Indonesia’s Most Powerful Industry: Tobacco

By N Mark Castro



How quickly the public forgets.

A few months ago, the president defied international community by executing drug traffickers and declaring to the world that Indonesia is confronted with a deadly crisis of drug abuse, killing 18,000 people annually.

He further disclosed that the number of drug users who could not be rehabilitated amounted to 1.2 million and nearly 50 of them die every day. “In total about 18,000 die every year due to illegal drug consumption,” Jokowi said.

Those were his exact words.

And the nation — or most of its citizens — agreed and posted on this very site to respect the country’s sovereignty and that they deserve to die.

Those who posted here wrote about protecting their children and family and acquiesced to the call for blood.

Well, here we are, 200,000 people die every year from Marlboro, Philip Morris, Gudang Garam, Djarum with their cigarettes readily available everywhere and right next to children’s schools.

Not a word from any single politician with their toothless policies against drugs. Not a word from any of the Ministry that protects children, social community, health. None.

And the people who called for blood are nowhere to be found, are dead silent.

It is no wonder Indonesia has become a dumping ground for tobacco industry while their operations are tightened elsewhere in the world. And the local industry competes well with global market leaders. The result: Indonesia has over 5 million child smokers, much higher than President Jokowi’s contention of over 4 million people suffering from drug abuse that could not be rehabilitated.

And these are children.

So does that mean it’s not the government’s priority?

After all, let’s consider the priority policies. The Ministry of Trade tried to ban used clothing because, according to him, to the chagrin of logical people on earth, he said that HIV could be transmitted from it. The same Ministry banned the sale of alcohol, as if children and people are drinking out there on the streets all the time. The Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection wants to ban cellphones for children.

We ban alcohol yet you can smoke everywhere in the country, including inside the malls.

The FPI, the self-proclaimed guardians of morality in the entire country, has never spoken against tobacco industry.

Where are you now, blood thirsty people?

Or are you afraid to touch it at all?

Of course tobacco lobbyists and employees would argue that they’ve done something good: pay extremely high taxes, putting up schools and mosques, and posting warning labels to their products. They also support music by sponsoring both foreign and domestic concerts.



So for Indonesian children to become addicted is certainly no news. No case has ever been successfully filed. And tobacco industry can easily distance itself from all the alleged illnesses brought about by tobacco.

Consider the 5 million child smokers in Indonesia that are addicted to tobacco. Yes, they manufacture them to be addictive.

In just the last few years, they’ve increased the amount of nicotine in the average cigarette by 11.6% to make them even more addictive. Recently, we learned that tobacco companies have been adding an ammonia-based compound to cigarettes for years to increase absorption of nicotine. It’s basically the same principle used in crack cocaine.

And let’s look at the obscene strategy they’ve employed here.

Smoking may cause cancer, but it didn’t cause this particular cancer. It wasn’t our cigarettes, or it was genetic, or asbestos or a paper mill.

Never do they take responsibility ever. And God forbid, if you sue them, they’ll bury you and your lawyer. They might even depose your doctor to death, for good measure. All their insidious methods and cunning corporate tactics aren’t just history, it’s what they continue to do now, today.

Because the tobacco industry is like a nest of cockroaches, they will always find a way to survive.

They still go after kids with one strategy after another. They put up brightly colored ads at kid’s eye level in convenience stores. They hire gorgeous twenty-somethings to frequent popular venues and seduce young adults into attending lavish corporate-sponsored parties. Cockroaches will always find a way.


They can’t advertise on TV but they’ve hired PR agencies to hook them up with the film industry. And it’s worked. Researchers estimate that smoking in movies delivers nearly 400,000 adolescent smokers every year. Every time you try to kill the cockroach, it finds another way. It has to, because when you make a product that kills off your consumers, you have to find a way to recruit new customers.

In 2010, Indonesia’s tobacco industry, according to data from research company Nielsen, Indonesian tobacco companies spent Rp 1.98 trillion ($202 million) in 2010 on cigarette advertisements, and by 2013 it rose to 53%.

In fact, cigarette advertisement expenses had increased to IDR2.5trn in 2012, with a 13.2% CAGR 2008-2012. The Indonesian Cigarette Association (Gappri)’s general secretary, Aoni Azis, protested against the proposed ban, citing it was against the Constitutional Court (MK)’s tenet that there should restricted air time for cigarette TV ads, as it is a hazardous addictive substance.

This is, apparently, how corporations with a conscience behave.

How in God’s name are cigarettes even legal, can anybody tell me that?

They are a deadly concoction of carcinogens that damage every single organ in your body. Why do we not ban them?

Because Indonesia is the 5th largest producer of tobacco in the world? Because the richest men in Indonesia are tobacco owners?

How can any company, especially one with such a conscience no less, knowingly manufacture a product that poisons its users?

How could any society or president that calls for the death of drug traffickers responsible for the deaths of 18,000 people annually tolerate the deaths of 200,000?

In 2012 alone, Sampoerna made IDR 9.95 trillion (US $1.03 billion).

Imagine that.

Produce products that are known to kill its citizens yet receive government approval.

And the nation remains silent.

Perhaps anti-tobacco lobbyists don’t have enough money to wage advertising wars against them. Perhaps they’re just not creative enough.

Here’s a little something to help you … for free.


Because right here in Indonesia is smoker’s haven. The non-smokers are those sent outside.

I didn’t invent the rules, I just enjoy them. And there’s nothing mild about that.


About Asmartrock

N. Mark Castro is the Southeast Asia Director of JUMP DIGITAL Asia, which is an internationally-awarded and fully integrated digital marketing agency with 5 out of 10 offices in the ASEAN region. He is also the Secretary General of the Philippine Business Club Indonesia, managing and assisting the traffic of investments between the Philippines and Indonesia. He shuttles between Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Cambodia, and Australia. The views posted here are his own and do not in any way reflect the views of the companies he represents.

Posted on June 2, 2015, in General, Politics and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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