Updated: Apr 1, 2021
In a perfect world, it would be highly odd and perhaps even confusing, if you see a 5-year-old smoking a pack of cigarettes every day, even before he can speak properly. Our beautifully conditioned mind would not even consider this as a possibility and rightly so. ‘Who, in their right mind, would let a five- year- old smoke, let alone near a cigarette?’ As bizarre as it may sound, this is the reality of millions of Indonesian children, who learn how to light a cigarette, even before they learn to write their alphabets. In more rural parts of the country, if you’d ask a child what his hobbies were, football and smoking cigarettes would be among the top two. This epidemic that has engulfed Indonesia, is not just sheer neglect on the part of the parents but is also fuelled by some of the biggest cigarette companies in the world.
Indonesia, with the fourth largest population in the world, is one of the largest cigarette market, second to China. Tobacco has been one of Indonesia’s largest industry for decades and contributes to nearly 95% of the state's excise total. According to Bloomberg, the country seeks to earn $12 million in state revenue in the year 2021, which is 5% higher than in 2020. In 2016 alone the country produced about 340 million cigarettes. This island nation produces tobacco for the largest tobacco giants. With the tobacco industry pumping millions of dollars in a developing nation, the government’s will to regulate the tobacco market is highly questionable.
While the parliament has chosen to value the national revenue more than public health, tobacco giants across the world have not spared the chance of exploiting the laws and entering the country to make millions. There is an uncanny resemblance between colonialism in India a century ago and the crisis that Indonesia faces today.
A child smokes on as his infant brother is breastfed.