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Draconian Anti-Smoking Law Hits Bali

November 30, 2011

There is nothing more pleasant than sitting in one of Bali’s thousands of open-air restaurants or cafes. Delectable food, a cool drink, or even a book – in case the passing parade of absurdities begins to pall – and a cigarette or two to enhance the experience. The outdoor ambience, and the fact that ventilating breezes minimise the impact of any occasional wisps of smoke on others makes Bali a relaxing getaway for those who choose to indulge their habit without nanny-state interference.

Not any more.

The inexorable tide of do-gooder interference has finally reached the previously easy-going shores of Bali. A law implemented only this week now bans smoking in many parts of Bali. Any place designated as a “tourism destination”, or “tourism support facility” is henceforth to be smoke-free. The list of proscribed premises includes some intelligent bans, such as places of worship, health facilities, schools and children’s playgrounds. But this draconian legislation goes much further, enmeshing hotels, open-air markets, airports, restaurants, cafes, bars and night clubs in its web. Smoking is to be banned in all of these places. They will also be prohibited from selling or advertising tobacco products as well.

A straw poll taken this evening at a local cafe revealed that more than two-thirds of the patrons were smoking. The effect on air quality was negligible. Later in the evening, the staff at a local bar were stunned when I told them about the new legislation. Looking around at his customers, most of whom were smoking, a senior barman summed up Bali’s new by-law with a pithy “That’s bullshit! They can’t do that! We will lose all our customers.” Still later, at an open-plan restaurant nearby, I observed most of the customers lighting up after their meals. I asked a few of them for their thoughts, and most of their responses were tinged with anger. “That’s crazy!” was a typical answer. “We come to Bali to get away from all the stupid laws at home, and now this! Oh well, if they bring it in, we’ll just go somewhere else.”  Thailand featured as an alternative destination for quite a few, while Malaysia was mentioned by others. Even the restaurant staff were jolted by the news, saying, “But no-one will come here any more …”

Without a doubt, smoking is unhealthy. But it is a lifestyle choice – as well as an addiction – for most of us smokers. It is not up to self-appointed elites in government to presume that they know best, and on that basis to mandate what is “good for us”. For us smokers, it is our choice to smoke. In Bali, where open, ventilated structures are the norm and effect on non-smokers is minimal, this legislation is both oppressive and unnecessary. Its implementation will be problematic, if only for the reason that laws in Indonesia are meaningless until wrapped in their subsequent rat’s nest of regulations. Given the inept drafting of most laws here, getting a workable regulatory framework up and running could take years.

So let’s scratch a little beneath the surface of this nonsense to find out what the real motivation is. Supposedly, it is for health reasons. But will it discourage the Balinese population from smoking? Probably not. The overwhelming majority of locals do not sit in bars, frequent cafes and restaurants or play in expensive tourism enclaves. Foreigners do. The purported “health benefits” look a little shaky when you look at the prescribed penalties. Miscreants who flout the new non-smoking regulations will be banished to languish in the over-crowded Kerobokan prison for up to six months, or pay a fine of 50 million rupiah ($5,475 AUD). This is not a penalty aimed at locals who could never afford it, instead it is targeted squarely at foreigners.

Bali’s Governor Made Mangku Pastika has already foreshadowed the true intention of this law, saying,  “I think tourists will understand … it is Bali’s people who often do not understand.” In its implementation phase, it is clear that smoking locals will be ignored by the police, while ‘rich’ bules will be expected to pay substantial bribes to avoid the threat of a costly court case and exorbitant fines for … smoking. You know, a bit like only bules being stopped for not wearing a helmet. No, Governor, I don’t think tourists will “understand” at all. They will see it for what it is – another unashamed grab at the wallets of the very people who are part of the underpinnings of Bali’s economy.

The Chairman of the Bali Tourism Board, Ida Bagus Ngurah Wijaya, clearly understands that officials might have trouble enforcing the regulation for locals. In the DPRD building where the law was passed on the 28th November, smoking is rife amongst the lawmakers. “Every time I am invited for a hearing at the DPRD”, he said, “members smoke in the meeting room.” I very much doubt that will change after the law is brought in. And yet he naïvely goes on to say, “but I don’t think we will have a problem from tourists.” Oh, really?

Well, let’s wait and see. This issue is not about smoking. It is about personal freedom. I suspect that any implementation of the type of despicable social engineering that Australia’s do-gooders have fallen in love with, and that has made Singapore such an over-regulated nanny state, will backfire in Bali. The people who come here do so because they are, at least temporarily, free from the fanatical zeal of self-appointed arbiters of personal choice. They are willing to overlook the rubbish, the crumbling infrastructure, the corruption and the incessant demands for money because of that sense of freedom, and the magic that derives from that.

What if  loss of freedom to smoke here turns out to be the tipping point that causes a shift in the delicate balance of factors that drive travel decisions? Bali is freedom. But if visitors stop feeling free in Bali, they will simply stop coming.


UPDATE: OK, time for me to ‘fess up. This was a mild troll  designed to see what people really think – and the comment responses make that fairly clear. In the interests of fairness, I left them all in, including the abusive ones.  

As expected, only a few people noticed a tag attached to this post, i.e. “a troll to gauge reaction”. My personal view  is that neither smokers nor non-smokers should be advantaged or  disadvantaged. Where the practice of smoking affects the health or comfort of non-smokers, I fully agree that steps should be taken to prevent this harm. Restaurants are a perfect example – my habit should not impinge on your right to breathe smoke-free air. The challenge is to provide workable solutions for all stakeholders.

But I draw the line at people who condemn and marginalise all smokers as an article of faith, or because they are just “wrong” to smoke.  I acknowledge that opponents of smoking may be right. But I do object when this crosses the line into becoming righteous.

Thank you for your comments. They are enlightening.


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20 comments

  1. Law is one thing… enforcement another – lets see…


  2. Fantastic. I for one am pleased that this new law has come to pass. I doubt that it will take off for some time but let’s wait and see.

    I was sitting in a cafe in Ubud enjoying dinner with my wife and friends when the person at the table next to us and yes, up wind, lit up the biggest cigar I think I have ever seen. The smell was horrific and I could see this person had no regard for others by the way he puffed and grinned when he noticed our reaction. I see whole families including children sitting at dinner tables and lighting up after every couse. Banning smoking can only be a good thing for the tourist trade.

    This is the same for a lot of smokers. They think they have the right to spoil the environment of others and show no regard in doing so because its ‘their right’ to smoke, to pollute their body, to spoil others enjoyment and think those around them can go somewhere else. Then there is the cigarette butts that have a half life of a thousand years, that are scattered everywhere.

    Lets face it, smokers stink, so does the smoke the smoke that pours out of their mouths. If I was to light my farts next to you I am sure you would not be impressed and if I did not light them I am sure you would be even less impressed, the smell would put you off your food but my farts are not filled with deadly chemicals, ie arsenic and the like as cigaretts are. They are a natural by product, not that I would light my farts anyway and I dont like the smell of them either but I am sure you get my drift.

    ‘This issue is not about smoking. It is about personal freedom.’ Yes, access to clean air is everyone’s personal freedom. As is a holiday where people pay good money to enjoy their food without the smell of tabacco coming out of someone mouth. Let the tourists that come to smoke go somewhere else to smoke and spoil that environment, we dont really need them or even want them. We can now attract the tourist that wants to not smoke, to not have to put up with others that want to spoil their holiday, pollute them and their children and lets face it, their are a lot more non smokers than smoker.

    Not all rules are bad.

    PS, I love you posts


  3. You said that smoking in bars/restaurants etc has “minimal” impact/effect on non-smokers. If you said it had *NO* impact, you might get me onside. We’ve been to Bali quite a few times and the only thing I didn’t like about Bali was the total indifference of all the smokers to the obvious non-smokers. As a non-smoker, I welcome the new laws.
    My “lifestyle” choices are to jump out of planes and fire weapons. Neither of which I do in any proximity to other people so as to have an effect on them.
    Smokers with their ‘lifestyle choice’ will just have to find some place elsewhere on the Island to indulge their addiction.


  4. It seem to me that you have been living in your own smoke bubble to long.
    I find it so offence that I to cannot sit and enjoy my meal or a cold drink while watching the parade go by while trying to avoid the clouds of exhaust expelled;ed from others lungs.
    The fact that you can sit there and write such shit indicates how affected and addicted you are to your little white sticks. Good on the government for trying to do the right thing and for you I would suggest that you go back to where you came from. How dare you think your habit causes no impact on others.


  5. As always it would be best to give customers and bars/restaurants a choice: a sign that indicates if a bar/restaurant allows smoking in a particular area. Potential customers can make a choice if they want to patron the place or not.

    Oh, wait, that exists already…


  6. It’s a step in the right direction.


  7. I gave up smoking years ago so I’m quite happy about it.

    Sorry Vyt. You lose this round.


  8. […] Posted by Adam Uh Oh, the fun police have arrived on Bali…… Well said Borborigmus: Draconian Anti-Smoking Law Hits Bali Borborigmus in Bali Madness takes its toll. Please have exact change. Puri Dukuh Accommodation Reply […]


  9. Hi Vyt,

    Well written article but the content concept fails to gain my support. Bali is just moving with the times. As an ex-smoker I agree there is nothing more enjoyable. If they did’t kill you I would still be an addict whatever the cost. It is a personal choice that I never wished to inflict on anyone else with my second hand smoke. Especially my children or anyone elses for that fact.

    Won’t stop me reading your blog though. It’s a must do weekly check. PS. It’s good to see you are scribing frequently again.


  10. Thank god. I have had so many meals in Bali ruined by people who could really care less blowing smoke in my face. Rights to poison your body should stop when they interfere with others’ health and enjoyment. Drive tourist from Bali? Are you joking? Everyone I know would now be much more likely to go there with some smoking controls in place. I could not be more pleased that Bali is finally taking some steps to protect the health of the waitresses and (who rarely smoke though certainly a lot of the waiters might) and other workers formerly forced to risk their health by exposure to second hand smoke all day and the health and enjoyment of non-smoking patrons. “Draconian” indeed! Just shows how little you realize how your smoking is adversely affecting others. And I really don’t care if it is the “rich bules” affected… they are the ones usually driving me from one end of a restaurant to the other with their noxious smoke.


  11. Love your posts Vyt, but I have to disagree with you on this issue.

    I travel to Bali and other parts of Indonesia regularly on visits with my Indonesian wife, and one of the things I find difficult is finding clean air. For example in Jakarta, dinners will routinely disregard smoking bans in shopping malls, ignoring the province’s laws and other patrons’ health and comfort. It is very difficult to find a table that isn’t – now or soon to be – smoke affected; men (it’s almost always men) will light up right in your face with total disregard. Restaurant managers and staff can’t or won’t enforce bans. In the few places that attempt to segregate smokers in a separate area, smoke simply contaminates the entire restaurant.

    Granted Bali has more venues with open windows, but even so we have frequently have to choose a bad table or an unpopular restaurant to minimise inhaled smoke, and had to move around as smokers light up.

    Vyt, putting stinking toxins into my air is NOT okay. Just because the non-smokers around you don’t complain doesn’t mean they are happy about breathing foul air. They are just being polite. Here, in anonymity, I can tell you what they’re really experiencing, and thinking. Wonderful thing this internet.

    From what I’ve seen Indonesian hospitality staff – often female non-smokers – are forced to breath this stuff as a condition of their making a living. My wife gives me an insight into their point of view – they hate it! Laws that ease their exposure can only be a step in the right direction. (Even if it is only a side effect of gouging tourists, as you suspect).

    Thanks for raising the subject, and giving many of your followers a chance to differ and – dare I say it? – clear the air!

    ps – we enjoyed your ‘In their own words’ posts recently, good stuff – as you say, you couldn’t make it up!


  12. I couldn’t agree with you more, and I’ve already written my own rant about this recent law (which hopefully will make the paper). There’s nothing more ridiculous, not to mention inappropriate, than countries like Indonesia wanting to jump on the bandwagon of the anal retentive, restrictive, paranoid, foolish politically correct agenda of the west.


    • If implemented, it will merely swell the coffers of the police, because negotiating a bribe down from an artificially high starting point is advantageous for them. If a prosecution actually reaches the courts (which I suspect it won’t because of backlash from Bali-bashing media), the supposed 50 million fine will swell the coffers of the government.
      If the government in Bali was serious about the health impact, they would either ban tobacco outright, or add enormous Australian-style punitive taxes – much as Jakarta has done with Sharia-inspired 400% duties and taxes on alcohol.
      But they won’t do this because of the outcry from the locals, who won’t stand for it.
      As with all ‘undesirable’ habits, education is the key to change, not bullshit, knee-jerk, derivative legislation that simply does not work.


  13. Good luck to them. After they see how many tourists stop going to Bali for a holiday the “anti-smoking law” will be scrapped. Like myself I go to Bali once a year and next year I will simply go to Phucket instead. They are doing more harm than good seeing that the locals depend on tourists to make there living.


    • That’s a rather blinkered, selfish attitude to take ‘Fre’. There *will* be areas that you drug addicted people can go to so that you can appease your drug habit and slowly kill yourself. If all smokers are as close-minded as you,and chose your foot stamping stance, the only people that are going to suffer are the Balinese.
      But then again, if all you smokers bugger off to another country, it just means that non-smokers (who are the majority of the worlds population) will be flocking to smoke-free countries, so really, the Balinese, and non-smokers alike, will not miss you at all.


  14. Great comments …. we should count ones – if all non smokers stay away from Bali or all smokers – what would have the bigger effect for the island ?
    For the police it would be very sad if the smokers stay away – no bribes anymore ….
    IF it come to happen !! As long i know this law still need an agreement from Jakarta – maybe there are some thinking people involved.
    And btw also in Sigapore i can choose in a hotel between smoking and no smoking room – also in restaurants – smoking and no smoking areas – a fair regaulation for both parties yes – a stupid and bribery asking law like this – no, thank you !!!


  15. I use an electronic cigarette, only water vapour comes out, so I can smoke everywhere without emitting stinking toxics. Google it : e-cigarette.


    • I have one now – the perfect solution for keeping the peace! 😉


  16. I did the same. No problem.


  17. My, aren’t non smokers and ex smokers a nasty, self righteous, abusive, and reactionary bunch of darlings, filled with vitriol and poison. Their rhetoric would be entertaining had they less influence. They don’t seem to be bothered one iota by the toxic fumes from two stroke and diesel engines and car, truck, and bus exhausts which fill the air in every street and pollute the atmosphere of open venues, but someone smoking a cigarette ten metres away inflames them with violent indignation. Not satisfied that they themselves don’t smoke they won’t rest until those who do are punished or banished to some penal institution. I so enjoyed a month in Bali away from the suffocating, personally restrictive laws of Australia and fully intended returning, until now. Such a pity.



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