Indonesia’s Chemical Romance

I recently watched a mini documentary that seriously blew my mind.

It documented Indonesia and it’s smokin’ ways; I mean that quite literally as a recent study showed that a whopping two thirds of its male population are regular smokers. In 2010, Indonesia’s population was at 242.3 million, and 34% of that number smoke.

That is an obscene amount of tobacco.

Why so high, you might ask? Well let’s see: for one, there are pretty well no regulations on smoking. That’s right, if you’re a 6 year-old Indonesian child, and you wish to purchase a one-dollar pack of cigarettes with your allowance money, you are in your legal right to do so. To you and I this may seem absurd, but for those who call Indonesia home, this is the norm. And why do these children smoke? Well, because like every other child around the world, they want to fit in. And since everyone else is doing it, well they should too.

Also, there are ridiculous amounts of advertising for tobacco companies that litter Indonesia’s streets. Many of which are directed specifically AT CHILDREN. That’s right, cartoons teaching children to smoke. Madness.

In 2003, 250 million dollars was spent on tobacco advertising alone in Indonesia. It is the third largest population of smokers in the world, falling just below China and India. Cigarette manufacturing companies get tax credits for advertisements, which make it insanely cheap for them to get their brand out there. Which, in turn, makes purchasing cigarettes insanely cheap (an average 20 pack of cigarettes is about one US dollar). Not to mention the tobacco industry is a major contributor to Indonesia’s economy, providing jobs for a big chunk of their population. When you stop and think about it, it’s no wonder smoking is such a hard habit for Indonesian’s to break.

Here in Canada, it’s a known fact that tobacco isn’t good for us. If we choose to smoke, we know it’s harming us and causing us a greater risk of developing cancer. Simple as that. In Indonesia, however, some people actually believe that smoking cures cancer. Many believe that by manipulating the mercury levels in tobacco, smoking can cure cancer, autism and even reverse the ageing process. They do so by smoking what they like to call “Divine Cigarettes.” Some doctors even deem smoking as beneficial, because they are good stress relievers, calm nerves and sharpen concentration. Perhaps true, but the bad effects of smoking definitely outweigh having sharpened concentration, no? Considering an approximate 200,000 people die in Indonesia every year from smoking-related illnesses, I’d likely say so.

It’s sad, but with Indonesia’s economy so dependent on the manufacturing and distribution of cigarettes, the insane amount of tobacco ads, and the fact that cigarettes are highly addictive, it seems this issue won’t be resolved any time soon. The age of smokers seems to be getting younger and younger, and as Indonesia’s Health Department’s attempts to control tobacco go unimplemented by the government, it’s hard to say when Indonesia will see a change.

Until the people of Indonesia decide to kick this bad habit once and for all, it seems their country will remain the test market for tobacco companies, and the “bad kids” of this world. Just remember folks, a cigarette a day keeps the doctor in pay!

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