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Tob Control. 1999 Autumn;8(3):327-32.

Women and tobacco in Indonesia.

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  • 1School of Public Health, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.



To present a broad exploration of the relationship of women and tobacco in Indonesia and to describe action on tobacco and health specific to women taken by government and non-government agencies.


Published and unpublished prevalence surveys, official documents, vernacular newspapers, secondary sources, unstructured interviews, and personal observations.


Data on smoking prevalence among women was primarily sought from official household surveys but several smaller scale local surveys were also examined. The only representative national household data on smoking prevalence from 1995 suggested a national prevalence for occasional and regular smoking of 2.6% for women aged 20 years or older. Smaller, local level surveys had reported rates varying from 4% for junior high school girls, and 2.9% for women undergraduates at a provincial university, to 6.4% of women in a representative sample in Jakarta. Claims that the incidence of female smoking is increasing cannot be confirmed due to an absence of comparable national longitudinal data.


Although Indonesian women are conspicuous in growing and processing tobacco, their rates of smoking are low in comparison with their male compatriots and internationally. Anecdotal evidence suggests that their disinclination to smoke is commonly attributed to cultural values, which stigmatise women smokers as morally flawed, while at the same time sanctioning smoking by men. Although there is little evidence of tobacco advertising directly targeting women, Indonesian health activists interviewed by the author felt that women are increasingly taking up smoking due to a weakening of stigma and to Western cultural influences. Cultural factors in the low rates of smoking among Indonesian women deserve closer investigation as they have proved to be a major source of health protection, albeit within a stigmatising context. More also needs to be known about the dynamics of female tobacco use in Indonesia and the factors contributing to marked geographical variations in smoking prevalence.

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