A VIDEO of an Indonesian toddler who smokes 40 cigarettes a day has shocked health experts and provides further graphic illustration of the south-east Asian country’s growing addiction to tobacco.
The parents of the two-year-old boy, seen smoking in a video clip, are to be investigated, Indonesian officials said.
Ardi Rizal, who weighs four stone, laughs and responds to the adults around him as he sits on his plastic tricycle and inhales deeply from frequent drags on a cigarette.
His father reportedly gave him his first cigarette when he was 18 months old and now he smokes 40 a day.
His mother says he beats his head against the wall unless he gets nicotine, but his father insists he is “healthy”.
His mother, Diana, 26, said: “He’s totally addicted. 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.”
But his fishmonger father, Mohammed, 30, doesn’t appear to understand the health implications facing his child: “He looks pretty healthy to me. I don’t see the problem.”
Child Protection Ministry official Heru Kasidi said the family would be investigated for what would be considered a clear case of child abuse in many countries.
Weak regulations – Indonesia is the only country in south-east Asia not to have signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – have enabled tobacco companies to target young Indonesians with advertising and events promotions.
Anti-smoking activists and health experts say Indonesia is a paradise for the tobacco industry, which has been aggressively expanding sales in the country of about 240 million people.
“The regulations on the tobacco industry in Indonesia are weak. They protect the shareholders in the industry more than the people,” activist Kartono Mohamad said.
“The people in Indonesia are fighting alone against the tobacco industry, the government and the policy makers. It’s one against three.”
According to the World Health Organisation, cigarette consumption in the south-east Asian archipelago soared 47% in the 1990s. Almost 70% of men over 20 years of age smoke, and regular smoking among boys aged 15 to 19 increased from 36.8% in 1997 to 42.6% in 2000.
But anti-smoking initiatives have floundered in the face of the powerful local tobacco industry, which employs scores of thousands of people and generates more than $6 billion a year for the government.
“More and more Indonesian children have become victims of the cigarette industry,” Indonesian Child Protection Commission chairman Hadi Supeno said.
“There are many children under five years of age who have started smoking. A decade ago, the average age of beginner smokers was 19, but a recent study found that the average is seven.”
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