Smoking ad in Indonesia condemned

Critics are reacting with outrage to an Indonesian billboard campaign by the tobacco company PT Sampoerna which, translated, says that “Dying is better than leaving a friend; Sampoerna is a cool friend.”

That is being interpreted as a statement that smokers would rather die than give up their cigarettes. And Indonesia is a country where indeed many do.

A billboard ad for Sampoerna cigarettes

A billboard ad for Sampoerna cigarettes

An estimated 140 million of the country’s 245 million people smoke cigarettes, cigars and cheroots of varying scents and hues, puffing their way through some 225.5 billion cigarettes annually, a large percentage of them clove cigarettes known as kretek. It is the world’s fifth biggest tobacco market.

The industry is estimated to provide direct or indirect employment to seven million Indonesians. Tobacco tax revenues prop up the budget and are the biggest contributor to national coffers, with upwards of 90 percent of all excise revenue coming from tobacco. The cigarette manufacturers, including PT Sampoerna, are also among the country’s most politically powerful.

“This is an irresponsible advertisement and the Philip Morris International (PMI)-owned company must be held accountable for its despicable lack of sensibility,” said the Bangkok-based Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance in a prepared news release.

“It is very irresponsible to say such a horrible thing, especially as the aim is just to sell cigarettes,” said Bungon Ritthiphakdee, the director of the tobacco control alliance, which is seeking to cut cigarette smoking across the region. “First of all, it is ludicrous to call a hazardous product that kills half of its users a ‘friend’. It is simply despicable for PT Sampoerna to trash the Indonesian people in this manner. ”

The advertisement, Ritthiphakdee said, is clearly directed at young people. “About 12 percent of Indonesia’s youth aged 13-15 years, smoke cigarettes (boys at 24 percent and girls at 2 percent). Nearly 70 percent of smokers started smoking before the age of 19. Among the Asean countries, Indonesia has the largest number of smokers, 57 million. Every year more than 200,000 people die from smoking related diseases in Indonesia.”

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