Cigarettes… The New Pacifiers?

This video, released on YouTube in March, has spread quickly due to its disturbing content.  Yet a two year old smoking 40 cigarettes, while shocking, is actually not as uncommon as we would like to think.  Alarming data from the Central Statistics Agency showed 25% of Indonesian children aged 3 to 15 have tried cigarettes, with 3.2 percent of those active smokers.  The percentage of 5- to 9-year-olds lighting up increased from 0.4 per cent in 2001 to 2.8 per cent in 2004, the agency reported.  A separate survey in 2007 found that 41.5 percent of Indonesian students started to smoke because they claim that they were influenced by cigarette ads.  Thus is it any wonder that cigarette companies spend billions of dollars in advertising and sponsoring youth-oriented events in Indonesia and other parts of the world?

Once hooked on nicotine, these young people become customers for life, often hooked on the same brand which further entices cigarette companies to hook children as young as possible with little regard to their the devastating effect on their health.  The effects of advertising and the mass media are highlighted as Indonesia remains one of few countries left in the world that still allows cigarette advertising in the mass media including billboards, magazines, newspapers and television. As a result, tobacco use has increased almost sixfold, from 35 billion cigarettes consumed in 1971 to 202 billion in 2004.

While our initial reaction is to blame the parents,  it seems more fitting to blame the government who allows corporate control, and cigarette companies who will exploit anyone for the sake of profit.  The Indonesian government says that the tobacco companies benefit society by creating jobs, paying taxes and stimulating the economy.  However, these claims are questionable, as the health risks associated with smoking, as well as the immoral targeting of youths by tobacco companies, far outweigh any benefits.

As many parents are addicted to smoking themselves, they seem to have no qualms about handing their young children cigarettes along with their pacifiers and bottles.  Hopefully the controversy sparked by the Youtube video will help change tobacco advertising laws worldwide.  The youth featured in the video has been sent to rehab, and, according to a recent press release, seems to be succeeding in beating his addiction.  We can hope that changes will be implemented to stop a future generation from succumbing to tobacco addiction, but as for the current 3.2% of children aged 3-15 who have already become addicted to smoking in Indonesia, it may be too late.

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