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By the way: Message to ad execs, please quit

Duncan Graham

The Jakarta Post

Malang, East Java  /  Fri, October 11, 2019  /  02:47 pm
By the way: Message to ad execs, please quit

Illustration of a cigarette. (Shutterstock/Lightspring)

As a nipper I knew about baddies. They were paunchy bald men wearing sloppy trousers and horizontal striped T-shirts who squinted through eye masks.

Now it’s cyber crims. Clip-art shows a hooded figure hunched over a laptop in a darkened cell, an image as silly as childhood’s imaginary villains.

The 2019 evildoers wear sharp gear and work in fluro-saturated studios.  These keyboard jockeys move mice faster than a scurrying rodent; they tap like Jakarta jazzman Joey Alexander hits the ivories.

Away from their domain we’d find them fine neighbors, happy with community clean ups. Well-mannered and law-abiding, they join gyms rather than huddles of smokers’ on high-rise forecourts.

Decent folk? Don’t be deceived. They call themselves creatives and advertising account executives, and have two jobs. 

One is to financially cripple the poor. The other is to make self-harm fun.  In brief, they sell suicide.

They use their talents to offer insecure boys dithering at masculinity’s portal a cheap way to enter manhood.  Like the Devil’s pact with Faust, they swap fantasies for souls – and internal organs.

Let’s put it more bluntly: They proffer loaded revolvers suggesting the barrel be inserted in the mouth and the trigger pulled. 

The metaphor is flawed because a bullet results in a speedy death.  Their product draws out the agony, day by day, till the victim succumbs in a mess of bloody phlegm before horrified friends and family.

There are many dreadful ways to die; preventable tobacco-caused lung and heart diseases rival the Inquisition. They’re the biggest killers in Indonesia.

And the kids are getting hooked. The number of under-18 smokers is rising. In 2013 it was 7.2 percent; now it’s 9.1. Were there high fives in the ad agencies when those figures came out?

Six in 10 Indonesian men are addicts. They are druggies but don’t get arrested because their drug of choice is nicotine. And the government says that’s legal.

In those cities where the burghers care not a whit for their youngsters’ health, giant billboards on roads leading to schools show the life poor lads would love.

Most posters are arty – and artful. The adjectives are tough-guy:  Pro, strong, bold.  Slim studs sweat in boxing rings and scramble up mountains. To thrash rivals and snare coy maidens requires stamina; men must not give up.  It’s the definition of machismo.

So the slogans read:  “Don’t Quit” or “Never Quit”.

The educated copy writers know “Quit” is a magic word in the West.  It grew from an Australian doctor-led campaign that the government eventually backed.

Outdoor tobacco ads disappeared in 1996 after public protests that included defacing posters.

Shop displays are banned (packs are hidden in a closed cabinet), and the health warning with ghastly graphics of rotting bodies now covers 75 percent of the plain package.

These policies have had a thumping impact.  In the 1970s about 44 percent of adult Australians smoked; that’s now down to 15 per cent.  What’s gone up has been the expense – from 40 cents a pack to around A$33 (Rp330,000, US$22). The government tax take is 75 percent.

That’s 15 times dearer than the same toxin will cost in Indonesia next year when the price is likely to jump 35 per cent after a boost in excise.

To be a smoker in Australia you have to be rich or stupid – or both.  Hooked Indonesian users shrug off the government health warning Peringatan merokok membunuhmu (smoking kills you) like they ignore traffic lights.  Anecdotes trump facts: All inhalers know a Grandpop who smokes a pack a day and still pedals a pedicab.

As the world leader in combating tobacco Australia is loathed by Big Baccy.  Philip Morris took Australia to an international tribunal to have the plain-packaging laws declared illegal.

It took seven years and A$24 million before the government won.

Indonesian politicians who want the kid killing stopped have already been confronted by tobacco industry claims that thousands will be thrown out of work if laws are tightened, particularly women.

That argument could be used for maintaining prostitution, but the legislators say morality is more important than money. Absolutely. (ste)