Thursday 27 May 2010

Tobacco Boy

I read a truly shocking story today in the Daily Mail about a two-year old boy in Indonesia who has a forty-a-day cigarette habit. Yes, that's right, forty a day! Ardi Razal's health has been ruined and he now struggles to move himself, according to the report. His mother, Diana, says that he is totally addicted. All of her attempts to stop his puffing have been abandoned in the face of his tantrums;

If he doesn't get cigarettes, he gets angry and screams and batters his head against the wall. He tells me he feels dizzy and sick.

His father, Mohammed Razal, a fishmonger living in Musi Banyuasin in South Sumatra, does not seem to see a problem, believing his son looks perfectly healthy. All I can say is that he needs to look just a little harder. More than that, he needs to ask himself how healthy his son is likely to be by the age of ten, assuming he ever makes it that far.

Although this would appear to be an extreme example, Indonesian authorities are worried by the number of young children taking to smoking in a culture where tobacco is king. According to official statistics, 25% of children between three and fifteen have tried cigarettes, and there has been a sharp increase in smoking among those aged between five and nine.

The usual panaceas are being offered as solutions; that there needs to be a ban on tobacco advertising and a campaign illustrating the effects of passive smoking. This does not, it seem to me, to go anywhere near understanding why, and by what means, children as young as two have become hardened smokers.

We all have choices to make in life, risks we freely chose to take with our eyes open. Ardi Razal clearly did not acquire his habit by free choice or overnight. Admittedly without knowing all of the facts -the report does not make the precise circumstances of his addiction to tobacco clear- I can only conclude that his parents are feckless, irresponsible or uncaring, perhaps a combination of all three.


  1. Many of my friends had sent me this story, knowing that my smoking habits are rather stuck in the 1950s. That being said, your last point adds some measure to this debate. People make their bed and they ought to lie in it, when it comes to things like this. In this instance, because of the lad's age, it's down to the parents. I'm sure though the next time I buy my pipe tobacco let alone a pack of fags, they'll put the VAT up because of this...anything to tax smokers--I'm the one man Croesus of the welfare state, come and render tribute upon my generosity.

  2. The astonishing thing here, Adam, is that it must have taken months for this boy to work up to forty a day, and to say months in the context of the life of a two-year-old really is something.

  3. I'm going to ask an Indonesian friend of mine if he would like to comment.

  4. I know at his age all I was on was a pack a day--bloody kids

  5. Indonesia is following all the European leads at the moment with health warnings on advertising and on packets of cigarettes. There is no advertising on TV. There are smoking and non smoking areas in public transport and in restaurants. They are heading fast towards total bans as in the UK. I don't know about rules and regs in offices but I will ask my bro in law who works for an American company in Jakarta; I suspect it will have a ban on smoking in public areas but I don't know for certain.

    Cigarettes are not cheap. This lad is a massive exception. He must get money from somewhere and so your comments about bad parenting are fair in his case. Bad parenting and bad child care generally are not the rule. Children are cherished and they mostly have diets and lifestyles Western parents would wholeheartedly approve of; full of veg and low meat and natural rice: walking miles too and from school in all weathers.

    It is worth remembering several points about tobacco. One which is pertinent but I know will cause some to say that as usual the West is being blamed; and that is that as European markets have been declining due to health warnings and publicity the tobacco firms have concentrated on pushing their products in the East and in South America. Indonesia as I say has, and is, taking steps to counteract this but the push is still on and has particularly affected China and India.

    It is still considered cool to smoke in films but most of the students I know do not smoke, and do not like people that do. I have never seen anyone smoking on a soap on TV recently (called sinetrons and as awful as ours!).

    Another thing to remember about Indonesia is its vast size and its huge population. If you want extremes in anything it is the place to look. The biggest pythons in the world have been found near where I live but I have never yet seen one in the wild! The strangest human mutations are daily news for the voyeuristic on the equivalents of Sky TV News and in sensationalist publications. The Daily Telegraph highlighted the case of a man who they called the Tree Man because of the wart mutations that had horribly deformed his feet and hands and arms. By virtue of the exposure he got taken to Europe and had massive operations that removed about 2.5 kilos of wart from his hands and feet alone. Are all people in Indonesia therefore warty? No.

    For some reason I have not yet been able to fathom the rest of the world look at some extreme from Indonesia and immediately assume it represents the average. This is not done with our own society nor with any other Western society but in the case of Indonesia I would say that by now most people think that all kids are smokers and I have seen more children smoking at younger ages in Europe than ever I have seen in Indonesia.

    Where your statistics come from I do not know and what the question asked was I have no idea but the norm for children is not to drink, smoke or have sex until they are much older than the average in Europe. Far fewer take drugs and families stay together more and children are well cared for. Public drunkenness is unusual.

    There. More an article than a comment. Sorry. I could précis it but I have to take my granddaughter to the hospital to the 'relaxation' nurse who specialises in massage for toddlers so they sleep well. I know, crazy, but it works. She loves the massage and sleeps like a top afterwards. Never asks for a fag either.

  6. Hi Ana,
    I have been trying very hard to avoid this topic because ashamed at the fact that there is a fellow citizen who has been allowed by his parents to be addicted to smoking cigarettes, and angry at the fact that his parents have let this to happen. The third reason is because I have not been smoking for more than 10 years.

    I like your post and I will quote it on my blog.

  7. John and Harry, my thanks. I appreciate an Indonesian perspective.

  8. I am trying to get my head around a two year old smoking cigarettes.
    My only explanation is that they tried to get him off the dummy and therefore he got addicted to the weed.
    A good reason, but a bit embarrassing to all the mature age smokers actually.
    Thanks for all the extra tax dollars (pounds) though.
    Your Government needs it.

  9. Rainer, there is also comment on this on a site called Multibrand, run by Harry Nizam, an Indonesian friend of mine.