… is aimed at me and, according to the World Health Organisation, the roughly 85 million folk in Indonesia in thrall to the evil weed.
Yes, I’m an addict, and have been since I first had an illicit ‘fag’ when I was 12 years old, allowed for the first time to go for a healthy ramble through the countryside outside London with a bunch of older school mates who plied me with Strand cigarettes.
It was culturally acceptable then. My father smoked a pipe which he filled with Three Nuns tobacco which I presume he bought in the tobacconist opposite our house in London. It had a hairdresser in the back where I got a regular short back and sides.
Before I started puffing away, I collected cigarette cards, many given to me by my father’s father who ran a small tobacconist’s in Eastbourne, on the south coast, where he sold loose tobacco as well as regular brands; at home he smoked Churchman’s No.1. Some of the cards were quite educational, but they were used in a playground game called flicksies which involved flicking cards towards a wall in turn; when a card covered another one the whole lot went to the person that flicked it. I lost all mine.
I digress, but only a little. Pick your favourite character from this list: Tom & Jerry, Donald Duck, Sylvester, the Bouvier twin sisters (Simpsons), Pinocchio, Goofy, Daffy and Porky, Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Popeye. They’ve all been seen smoking in cartoons.
Smoking was Kool – pun intended.
I became a teacher, I say, only half in jest, because I hated school. But there was an earlier mystery which attracted me to the profession. Mr. Williams, our class 6 teacher had brown fingers, which were very noticeable when he was writing with white chalk on the blackboard. Although I didn’t then know the word, I thought that he was an alchemist … how else could the chalk turn his fingers brown?
Later, as a teacher in training at a primary school (SD) in Portsmouth, one morning the whole school was treated to an anti-smoking presentation from some visiting health workers. We teachers sat on a platform, with the children on the floor. After we’d all seen slides of over-flowing ashtrays and gazed at a pair of tar-soaked diseased lungs in a bell jar filled with formaldehyde, the health workers turned to us and said, “Of course, none of you teachers smoke, do you!”
“Oh no, miss,” we all said.
The children went out to play and we went to the staffroom and lit up while agreeing that what we’d just seen was truly off-putting.
Giving up my addiction has never been easy. Although I may jest that it is – after all, I stop every night, on the few occasions I have achieved a break of a few weeks or so, it has taken a very conscious decision and, very occasionally, the support of a similarly abstaining partner.
That was then and in the UK. When I left, smoking was becoming an anti-social activity, semi-regulated with punitive taxes and no smoking rules on public transport and in a few other places such as restaurants. Stricter rules have been brought in since then, and I wholeheartedly agree with them.
Here, the only benefit I think I get from my addiction is that the tar coating my lungs minimises the effects of Jakarta’s air pollution. I don’t watch cartoons anymore, but do see many adverts which, when not using overt images of cigarette packs or people smoking, slip in tobacco company logos.
These companies engage in the double-speak of Corporate Social Responsibility, through their tree planting, presumably to mitigate the polluting effects of tobacco; sponsorship of sports, which is really perverse considering that athletes require healthy lungs; and jazz festivals where good-looking young ladies pester you to buy their brands. But I’m not fooled: I buy mine in a local warung!
At least two foundations which carry the tobacco company names engage in school programmes offering so-called leadership courses. Less fortunate students have to make do with giant hoardings, some with the larger than life image of a Manchester United footballer which obviously targets yet-to-be hooked football fans.
According to Hery Chariansyah, the Executive Director of the NGO Lentera Anak Negara (LAN), teenagers make up the largest sector of the population watching TV, and are the most susceptible to advertising.
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Currently being considered by the House of Representatives is a draft amendment to Law No. 32 of 2002 on Broadcasting(,pdf). Last October, Indonesia (LAN) called for an assurance regarding child protection through the banning of cigarette related advertising on TV. This is being resisted by the advertising industry.
Moreover, Arya Sinulingga, the corporate secretary of Media Nusantara Citra (MNC), which controls Indovision, RCTI, and Global TV, said: “The problem of smoking in Indonesia has nothing to do with advertisements, which aren’t effective if there are no products available. The problem is with the distribution of tobacco products, even underage children can get them.”1
True enough, but that is like sweeping dirt under the carpet. The tobacco industry is a powerful lobby force, and any effort to control the industry is met with the mantra that curtailing the trade would result in massive layoffs and farmers would suffer the most.
The easy answer is that Indonesia’s tobacco barons, who regularly feature at or near the top of the Forbes list of the richest, should, because they can, find alternative crops for the farmers and alternative work for their factory workers. The food industry suggests itself as a neat match of skills.
But what we addicts really need is a concerted effort by politicians to take heed of all the many anti-smoking arguments, far too numerous to list here, to enact and enforce regulations and encourage a communal mindset which ostracises us. Putting us in glass booths at airports is one small step.
Joining the 177 countries which are party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (2003) would be a statement of intent.
All praise then to Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika who following a petition, which I signed, has declined to host the Inter-Tabac Asia, the largest trade fair held by the global tobacco industry which aims to boost tobacco sales in Asia. This was set to take place in Bali on February 27th and 28th.2
At the time of writing, it is not known whether another Indonesian governor or mayor has succumbed to the industry’s blandishments.
I sincerely hope not!
– There is a No Smoking rule in the Sampoerna Museum in Surabaya.
– In January, Eric Lawson, was the fifth(!) Marlboro Man to die from a smoking related lung disease.
1 Watch: Indonesia’s Tobacco Children
2 fr. the Inter-tabac site linked to above: (30/01/14) Contrary to misleading information published across some media channels, the Inter-tabac Asia and ProTobEx Asia trade fairs will be taking place as planned.