The video of a chain-smoking 2-year-old boy in Indonesia went viral last spring, making the country an abject poster child for unbridled cigarette use among its young citizens. The pudgy little boy, Ardi Rizal, smoked up to two packs a day, and his parents, who had started him at 18 months, said he threw tantrums if denied. Recently he went through rehabilitation, NBC reported in a segment this month.
While the toddler kicked the habit, Indonesia has not. It is the fifth-largest cigarette market in the world, the largest country to have refused to sign a global tobacco treaty, and a case study in the financial power of tobacco companies.
“Not just here, but everywhere, they’re targeting women, targeting children,” the Indonesian health minister, Endang Rahayu Sedyaningsih, said in an interview. “I think that, actually, it’s really immoral.”
The health ministry is in the early stages of writing a tobacco control law, including proposals for a ban on all tobacco advertising and stronger health warnings. But Dr. Sedyaningsih, who holds a doctorate in public health from Harvard, said any proposals to regulate smoking faced stiff opposition from vested interests. The tobacco industry employs millions of people who hand-roll the popular kretek, or clove-flavored, cigarettes.
“I don’t want this to become a public debate,” Dr. Sedyaningsih said, “because I think it will have an ugly impact.”
Indonesian smoking rates rose 47 percent in the 1990s. About 60 percent of adult men smoke. For cultural reasons, only 5 percent of women smoke — providing a sales growth opportunity.
Indonesian cigarette makers promoted concerts by Alicia Keys in 2008 and Kelly Clarkson this year until the singers forced them to withdraw sponsorship and pull down posters. Cigarette ads show glamorous, sophisticated, independent women. The companies sell super-slims, sometimes in lipstick-size cases.
“I’m trying to cut back,” a slight, 18-year-old woman named Aprilia said recently outside a soccer stadium where many teenagers smoked. But most of her young female friends, she said, have started smoking.
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