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The Truth about Smoking Babies

— Filed under: Breaking News, People & Culture, Business & Finance

Ardi takes a drag from his favorite brand of cigaretteArdi takes a drag from his favorite brand of cigaretteMeet Ardi Rizal, an overweight 2-year-old boy who lives in Sumatra. Ardi has caused an international uproar over the fact that he smokes two packs of cigarettes a day. His mother claims that he's addicted and that he throws a tantrum if he is denied his smokes, and according to The Jakarta Globe, he "refuses to smoke anything other than his favourite brand". The situation is compounded by the fact that Ardi's father doesn't appear to see anything wrong with his son's habit.

Anti-smoking advocates have seized upon the story as another example of multinational tobacco companies preying on the poor in the developing world. The Boston Herald quotes Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids:

"The tobacco companies are treating the developing world as the great new growth market and are taking maximum advantage of the lack of understanding among the poorest of the poor in these societies."

Myers and others are implying that big tobacco companies like Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have invaded the developing world and are forcing people to smoke. They're conveniently ignoring the fact that in Indonesia (of which Sumatra is part), clove cigarettes are by far the most popular variety. These cloves (known locally as "kretek") are produced in Indonesia, and have been since they were invented. While it's true that big tobacco has bought up many of these kretek manufacturers, they're about as home-grown as you can get. It's very likely that little Ardi's favorite brand is a local one such as Djarum or Sampoerna.

Djarum blacks, pack and cigarettes. A kretek c...

Image via Wikipedia

The Sydney Morning Herald cites some alarming statistics on tobacco use in Indonesia, and quotes Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney, who says:

"In a culture where tobacco control is not taken seriously, it's highly likely that people will think that children smoking is an amusing sight rather than a tragic sight... It might be that the cigarettes are even provided to the children by their parents because it's something funny."

Further, kretek are often recommended informally in Indonesia as a cough remedy, perhaps owing to the legend of their invention. Even among some of the supposedly "higher educated" citizens, there is ongoing debate as to whether cigarettes are bad for you.

So who or what is to blame for Ardi's addiction? His parents are under investigation by the Indonesian authorities, but is that enough? Is it sufficient to lay the blame at the feet of his parents? Ardi is not the first toddler to be caught lighting up on camera. And it's easy to find fault with the big tobacco companies, but is there a larger culprit here?

What do you think? Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Winston Smith's picture

It was not so terribly long

It was not so terribly long ago that smoking was considered healthy in the United States...

Ravespot's picture

Smoking toddler

Hi there, the biggest Indonesian producer, Sampoerna, is controlled by Philip Morris. The multinationals are licking their lips at the opportunities of weak regulation and poor health standards in such countries.

Kuncen's picture


Hi Ravespot, thanks for the comment. But don't you think that even if Sampoerna weren't owned by Philip Morris, they would still be "licking their lips" at the chance to exploit weak regulation?


Vernon's picture

Multinationals and Cultural Values

I agree that smoking is not a good thing for a child. I have, however, seen it practiced by very young children both in North America and in other parts of the world.

I recall once, on a train trip to Bangalore, India, I saw a VERY young boy nursing at his mother's breast then toddling over to a older man and taking a cigarette from him and smoking it.

In my experience each culture has different taboos. Smoking happens to be a big one in the west these days, but I agree it wasn't that long ago that smoking was advertised as the cool thing for the upwardly mobile. Now tobacco companies are using that same "line" in the developing world.

Multinationals peddle their stuff wherever they can find a "market." This is perhaps the evil, underbelly of capitalism? Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper have ruined the teeth and increased the rate of diabetes in the developed world and have a growing market worldwide. Nestle's advertises its infant formula mix throughout the developing world as "the sophisticated alternative" to breast feeding. The only problem is that women in places like Haiti and Bangladesh, and Nairobi often don't have access to clean water. They mix the formula and wonder why their babies get dysentery, and often die. If they only breast-fed, their babies would have a great chance at survival.

So, yeah, smoking is harmful to your health, and so is too much sugar, a lot of what multinational peddle to the world market in the name of capitalism.

Winston Smith's picture

There seems to be some sort

There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that a culturally sensitive person must accept without question the morals and taboos of all countries in the name of tolerance and diversity, and "because it's not wrong, it's just different". I feel that it's entirely possible that some taboos and practices in some countries might just be wrong, and that goes for the Western world too. We shouldn't be afraid to call a spade a spade - if something's wrong, it's wrong. It doesn't matter what country you come from, or what country you live in. It's a universal truth that smoking is bad for children, and allowing a child to harm themselves is shameful.

Agreed about the underbelly of capitalism, and that multinationals bear at least some of the blame.

Ravespot's picture


Yes of course they would, but they are owned by Philip Morris and that multi-billion-dollar investment is a pretty clear signal of the multinationals' intentions in targeting developing countries like Indonesia.

Thanks for the interesting post.

brendathompsen1977's picture

i think that the parents

i think that the parents should be arrested and put on trail for child abuse

how can this countrys government allow this?

Hanan's picture

I agree that the parents

I agree that the parents should be held responsible and face consequences. However, there needs to be government regulation when it comes to alcohol and tobacco.

Anonymous's picture

Smoking = bad, but male

Smoking = bad, but male genital mutilation (circumcision) which removes about 1/2 the nerve endings, is okay...

Niesey's picture


Cancer and other smoking-related illnesses aside, what about the simple danger of a child playing with fire? Even if the parents have a lack of education regarding the dangers of tobacco use, I still don't understand how they could think it's acceptable for their child to smoke.

Thinking about Philip Morris, I came across a vintage ad from the 1950's on the internet a couple weeks ago for Marlboro. The ad targets moms, and features a couple of babies encouraging their moms to smoke... which I guess would've exposed them to 2nd hand smoke, and all the health problems that we now know are caused by exposure to cigarette smoke. True, it's not the same as actually giving a cigarette to your child, but it really hasn't been that long now since the Western world started paying attention to the complications that are caused by smoking.

If you want to see the old Marlboro ad, you can check it out here:

Anonymous's picture

What about the kid??

Have they stopped him smoking yet?! I seems everyone's giving the companies n parents a bit of abuse, but have they ripped them smokes out of the kid's hands yet?


Winston Smith's picture

Yeah, good point! While

Yeah, good point! While everyone's arguing, he's lighting up another smoke!

adjam's picture

parents under investigation.

Of course his parents should be under investigation, but without guidance from national, regional, local or inter local authorities what legitimacy do authorities have to investigate his parents. Can they approach the parents and explain to them what they have done wrong and where they should have found out about these dangers. If they investigate and find the parents to be aware of the facts yet negligent then they deserve to be punished but perhaps they should investigate what support and education was available to the parents beforehand. I fear they will do half-hearted job and settle for a scapegoat or two. Just a thought mind.

Winston Smith's picture

I think that's the danger -

I think that's the danger - scapegoating the parents. Government puts them in jail or fines them, scolds them, everybody nods in approval, and stops paying attention. But the source of the problem remains. Lack of education or perhaps society being unaware of the dangers.

Haven's picture

Ignorant parents!!

Ignorant parents!! Unbelievable

adjam's picture


No, it's quite believable but it shouldn't be allowed to happen. It's believable because the provisions are not in place to educate. Provisions are, however in place to furnish the inflated bank accounts of those reponsible for delivering the necessary information and education.

Winston Smith's picture

Good points, but do you think

Good points, but do you think it's simply education, or are the tobacco companies to blame as well? Or is it a general societal attitude which needs to change?

Bernard's picture

I found this article, which

I found this article, which is quite sad but also illuminating regarding the smoking habits of Indonesians.

Niesey's picture

No Tobacco Show in Jakarta

There have been a lot of comments about this article related to the lack of education regarding tobacco use in Indonesia. It's somewhat encouraging to see that in the Jakarta Post they reported about something called the "No Tobacco Show", which happened today in Kuningan, South Jakarta. It was put on by the National Commission on Tobacco Control to raise awareness leading up to World No Tobacco Day, which is tomorrow, May 31st.

I think it's fantastic that the National Commission on Tobacco Control organized this, and got so many teenagers involved in making their own anti-smoking campaigns for this event. While it's a step in the right direction to hopefully reduce the number of young smokers, this is something that only happened in the capital. People living in major cities are more likely to already be exposed to more information about tobacco use than those in the many villages, and the Indonesian government would do well to also put more effort into the education of the majority of the population, who reside outside Jakarta.

screech's picture

yeah, in the usa we treat 2-year olds right
we gave experimental/toxic drugs to foster kids who had no chance to benefit. this was around the year 2004.
our kids are more and more in need of mental help, apparently. toxic doses of it.
then there's the obesity and juvenile diabetes epidemics, which also have consequences for cancer risk.

then there are the kids who work in sweatshops, mines, and fight wars.

a smoking two-year old is not all that upsetting.

Abigail's picture

Children "belonging" to parents

In North America,too, many parents see their children as property. If you have several, perhaps one is expendable. I think of the mothers who enter their five-year-old daughters in beauty contests, scarring their psyches.

Winston Smith's picture

Mmmmm.... good point but I

Mmmmm.... good point but I think it's hard to compare smoking to being in a beauty contest. I think smoking is probably a lot worse for a child...

Abigail's picture

The body or the soul?

I suppose it's not possible to compare wounds. But I do think that, when a little girl grows up identifying too strongly with her looks it can cause damage that negatively affects the rest of her life.

Winston Smith's picture

Can't argue with you there.

Can't argue with you there. However, that damage can be undone - even if it takes a long time. Lung cancer and stunted growth can't be undone.

Abigail's picture

A long life

You are right! The body is precious. Unfortunately, this little guy probably has serious psychological wounds as well. One needs a long life to work out some of these things.

Kuncen's picture

Celebrity smoking baby

I've heard from some Indonesian friends that this fellow was featured in a TV special recently. He's almost like a mini-celebrity. Perhaps that's why the parents did it, to gain celebrity? Just watching the video of him puffing away, everyone seems to be fawning over him, and even at 2 years old he's aware of that...


MrShaw's picture

A resolution is not going to happen.

It is very unlikely that this will ever be resolved. Education with regards to smoking is never likely to be a hot topic for any Indonesian government for the foreseeable future, due to the massive industry that resides here. Education has never really been a priority here, and it will take decades for this to change. After all the wrong history of Indonesia is still being taught, and will do so for years to come.

There would be very little point in punishing the parents for the problem that has been discovered. After all, if that was to happen, what will it achieve? Is the boy going to stop smoking? Probably not. Is he then going to be subject to other ideals from outside sources, possibly not beneficial? Quite possible. Is this likely to be more peer-driven, and therefore of an even lower standard than he is currently getting? Possible.

Why are we so offended at this? It's not really any of our business, is it? Yes its a great debate, but that is all it is. This reminds me of the Madeline McCann case. A media hoopla that was created due to the fact that she was an angelic looking child from a middle class background. it was stated at the time that if her parents were from the wrong end of town, and Madeline was a buck-toothed short-sighted midget, then this would never have received the media profile it did. As it happens a rough statistic states that a child goes missing every 5 minutes in the UK. Did you know that? Certainly it would not seem so if you base all of your beliefs on the media.

It is very hard to gain facts about the percentage of smokers in Indonesia, but I think we all know that it must be high, despite a massive population of Muslims, and there are many debates by Muslim scholars whether smoking is Haram, which the most common answer seems to be that because it is damaging for your body, it is.

My opinion is this, let the kid smoke, perhaps one day he will contribute his smoking taxes to a Government that will be able to use them for the good of the company, before it is syphened off into a bank account it doesn't belong in.

screech's picture

well said

after reading genocidal comments elsewhere, i appreciate your thoughtfulness and sanity.

Winston Smith's picture

Making it our business

MrShaw wrote:
Why are we so offended at this? It's not really any of our business, is it?

Well, technically nothing on this site is really any of our business. But it offends us because it's causing harm to a child who is too young to know what he's doing. When he's had 18 years of stunted growth and hacking cough, and the beginnings of emphysema or lung cancer, he'll want to know why someone didn't make it their business, won't he?

MrShaw's picture

I was actually suggesting

I was actually suggesting that as Westerner's, it is none of our business. Certainly this news article has quickly spread throughout the media world, probably due to the offence it will cause. After all bad news sells, and culturally Westerners seem to be more offended at this story than Indonesians. Youtube currently shows going onto near 2 million hits for this video in a very short period of time. I have asked around, and it certainly has been broadcast throughout Indonesian media outlets, but the general response I have had has been disinterest (certainly don't take my word as gospel though, it is only a very small group of people I have managed to question about this so far).

Unfortunately for Ardi, it is too late. I have just read that the Sumatran Government have offered the family a car if they manage to get the child to quit. Very carrot orientated solution, in my opinion. I am right in thinking that this has been presented to the family, more as a PR exercise to counter the media attention, that a long term solution.

The Commission for Child Protection, is supporting drafts for laws to be introduced to reform government regulation on tobacco This perhaps will have an effect in the future, certainly not a solution for Ardi.

The is very strong debate going on with regards to the suggestion that smokers be denied health care.

In terms of Ardi developing lung cancer and Emphysema or lung cancer, that is very likely, but him being provided a answer, or being able to hold those accountable? I doubt it.

Although we may wish to make it our business, in reality any efforts that we as westerners would like to implement are void beyond discussion. It is up to the parents, the community, the government officials to bring about a resolution to this problem.

Perhaps all we can truly hope for is that Ardi serves as an example to other families, and they act upon this news story for the benefit of their own families.

With my own view point Winston, I am not so offended, or surprised. There are many things in Indonesia that when I first arrived shocked me to the core and occasionally caused me to be outraged. Having lived here a few years now, I am sad to sad that I am numb to most of it. Conditioning, its a necessary but saddening evil. In reality I will probably contradict myself on numerous occasions, and I have no intention of apologising for that, see it as identifying that I have weaknesses, and can live with them. I saw an opportunity to be flippant, and help promote a discussion for a friend at the same time, so I jumped at it.

Good talking to you.

Winston Smith's picture

International lubrication

Heh heh, no worries. I wasn't offended - apologies if I gave the impression that I was. I agree with you that it's not our place as Westerners to make the necessary changes. Like you said, it's up to the parents, the community, and the government officials to solve the problem. I'm not truly offended or outraged either by Ardi's smoking. But I do think that a little international furor can help to raise awareness and perhaps lubricate the wheels of change. That's all. Good talking with you as well, I enjoy your perspective.

MrShaw's picture

Help with following this up.

I am sadly limited with my Indonesian language, and attempting to see if there is any further information with regards to this story. I can find nothing written in English, but if someone has strong Indonesian reading/translating skills and manages to find anything via Google, if you could post it here that would be lovely. Thanks. The fact that I can't find anything in the English press just confirms in my mind that it was sensationalised for sales and is long forgotten. I fear that all interest has waned, including those who were attempting to motivate the parents to stop him.

timedesign's picture

Just be careful when you type

Just be careful when you type "smokin' babies" into a search engine.

MrShaw's picture

Jokin Jelly birdys

I was actually searching using the boys name, the area, smoking baby and about 7 other combinations. Nowt. It's been taken out. Unlike Allinson's.

Kuncen's picture

Update on Ardi Rizal

I found this update. Interestingly enough they mention people thinking it was a hoax, so they went to Sumatra to verify, and spent two days in the company of Ardi Rizal.

Illuminating video:


Niesey's picture

The baby quit smoking!

Just saw this update on the Jakarta Globe that little Ardi quit smoking.  Great news.

MrShaw's picture


That's good to hear if it is true, but notice that none of this was covered in the media.  I wonder if the media could get a story out of it, they would actually engineer this type of incident?

Anonymous's picture

Who here has really studied smoke!

I am certain that most the people blogging here have never actually researched how smoking is bad for. Instead they are just repeating what so many others have in the last couple of decades while continuing to stigmatize smokers. If you really do your homework, and I mean really, you will find that for the most part no one has figured out how exactly smoking causes cancer. While there is certainly numerous studies linking the smoking to cancer it is only correlation, petri dish studies, or studies done on animals who have been bread to easily succumb to cancer. The bottom line is that everyone has their facts crossed as to whether it is smoke, tobacco, or chemical fertilizer and additives. the most ignorant people will say that it is tobacco that causes cancer, but that is complete B.S. Smart but hypocritical people will say that it is the smoke and the products of combustion while casually driving around in their car burning tons of the same byproducts into the atmosphere for everyone to breath and then point the finger at smokers. The truth is that most studies do not research the chemicals that are put onto cigarettes, the fact that they are grown in soil that has been compounding radioactive lead and polonium, plus the addition of some of the worst pesticides and insecticides known to man. Then rolled up in bleached paper with hundreds of additives. The majority of dangerous compounds found is commercial tobacco smoke have been added by man, and there is no evidence that organic tobacco is anywhere as detrimental. Plain and simple everybody burns something so do not point the finger at smokers until you are done blaming yourself.