Two year old smoking in Indonesia. Via NYTimes
Since the western world started cracking down on cigarettes, the cigarette companies have started pushing their wares in the developing world. According to the WHO, ” Tobacco kills more than AIDS, legal drugs, illegal drugs, road accidents, murder, and suicide combined.” For this reason it is regulated, as it should be. Actually, for these reasons it should be illegal, but that’s another story. The story now is that, since western governments are cracking down, the companies are moving east. Smoking already kills more people in developing countries, and yet tobacco companies have relatively free reign here. Sri Lanka is a bit ahead on regulation, but in places like China and Indonesia, smoking is regulated little or not much at all. This has catastrophic consequence like the smoking toddler in the video above.
The video of a chain-smoking 2-year-old boy in Indonesia went viral last spring, making the country an abject poster child for unbridled cigarette use among its young citizens. The pudgy little boy, Ardi Rizal, smoked up to two packs a day, and his parents, who had started him at 18 months, said he threw tantrums if denied. Recently he went through rehabilitation, NBC reported in a segment this month. (NYTimes)
That story is random, but the rise in smoking in Indonesia is more planned.
In other parts of the world, notably Indonesia, the fifth-largest cigarette market, which has little regulation, tobacco companies market their products in ways that are prohibited elsewhere. In Indonesia, cigarette ads run on TV and before movies; billboards dot the highways; companies appeal to children through concerts and sports events; cartoon characters adorn packages; and stores sell to children.
Officials in Indonesia say they depend on tobacco jobs, as well as revenue from excise taxes on cigarettes. Indonesia gets some $2.5 billion a year from Philip Morris International alone. (NYTimes)
These are all things that tobacco companies aren’t allowed to do in western countries, but they seem to be responding by doing it in the developing world, burdening those countries with the crippling health care bills and social costs that come. This comes with profits – profits that they then use to force or entrench their political position. To fight these, countries have decided to hold a meeting in Uruguay to develop a global anti-smoking treaty. In response, Philip Morris has sued Uruguay for lost profits due to their restrictions on cigarette marketing. Uruguay’s Gross Domestic Product is only half of the $66 billion in profits that Philip Morris makes every year.
This has prompted some to call this move by cigarette companies the new Opium Wars. They may not be so far off.