Two years ago the story of Ardi, an Indonesian two year old who smokes 40 cigarettes a day, made headlines. Since then the video has had over 18 million views. Sadly, this child and others like him are the norm in Indonesia, a country with the fifth largest tobacco market. This country has been described as the “tobacco industry’s ‘Disneyland,'” and with good reason.
As tighter tobacco regulations went into effect in the U.S., tobacco companies looked oversees for new markets, a new “frontierland.” In their 1990-1992 Asia Corporate Affairs Plan, Philip Morris drafted their ideas to work against the anti-smoking activities in this region of the world. Advertising, sponsorship, taxation, public smoking regulation, “improved media relations and lobbying efforts” were areas the tobacco company hoped to control before the county could establish laws against the tobacco industry.
Indonesia, which has the fourth highest population in the world, is like an “adventureland” for the tobacco industry. The country has the highest smoking rate for adult males, 67%, according to the World Health Organization Global Adult Tobacco Survey: Indonesia Report 2011. In fact, smoking has increased 26% since 1995. Data for children aged 3-15 indicate that 25% have already tried cigarettes. Youth smoking rates are also high with 41% of boys aged 13-15 already smoking. Even mosques receive and hang banners from cigarette brands. Indonesia has no age limit for smoking or buying cigarettes.
Uncontrolled tobacco advertising and sponsorships are rampant, constantly encouraging young children to smoke, and implying tobacco is their friend. In Jakarta, Indonesia, international music performers are sponsored by tobacco companies as seen in the picture on the left. A young “tobacco princess” in the picture (below), stands outside a playground hawking menthol cigarettes next to the cigarette sign during an event.
Smoking has been part of the culture in this part of the world. Most of the smokers didn’t live long enough to experience the negative health affects, but that is changing. The quality of life has improved and life expectancy has almost doubled from 38 years in the 1960s to 69 years today. While the tobacco companies are looking at their “tomorrowland,” trying to push their products and promote a Western tobacco lifestyle, the Indonesian government is slowly looking at change.
New appointees within the government recognize the harm that tobacco is having on the population. While the the quality of life is improving in the country, many Indonesians are still poor and spending up to 15% of their monthly incomes on tobacco, money that could go to feed their families. New public awareness campaigns hope to focus on reducing the smoking rates of the youth, the future of the country.
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