Indonesia's Chain-Smoking Children Are Out of Control

Smoking in Indonesia | © Farhan Perdana (Blek)/Flickr
Smoking in Indonesia | © Farhan Perdana (Blek)/Flickr
In 2010, disturbing images of a smoking toddler went viral on the internet. Aldi Suganda, the boy captured lighting up ever so casually in the videos, lives in Sumatra, Indonesia, where he once devoured one cigarette after another, up to forty per day.

Aldi was only two years old when he became the public face of cigarette addiction among children in Indonesia. His mother, Diana, told CNN what it was like to struggle with criticism of her poor parenting skills. However, she argued that it was other social influences that first encouraged his behavior.

In a country that has the highest percentage of male smokers in the world, it’s not hard for children to pick up the habit and get access to cigarettes. Relatively low prices and widespread advertising only serve to fuel that desire.

Smoking © Tanti Ruwani/Flickr

Thankfully, after undergoing a long rehabilitation process, Aldi finally managed to quit smoking. Thanks to his infamy, Indonesia’s leading child psychologist, Dr. Seto Mulyadi, agreed to oversee his recovery. Dr. Seto personally devised and carried out an elaborate program which involved a lot of physical activities and therapies.

But hundreds of thousands of other chain-smoking children are not as lucky. Aldi is just one of the 267,000 children addicted to nicotine. In other parts of Indonesia, parents struggle to wrest cigarettes out of their children’s hands, while others may not even aware of the threat.

Many teens are offered cigarettes by friends from school or other social circles, and peer pressure is a huge driving force. Parents, many of whom smoke themselves, impose little restriction over their children’s smoking, either out of ignorance or a lack of awareness of the danger.

Indonesian teenager with a cigarette © Roman Königshofer/Flickr

Tobacco Atlas reported in 2013 that more than 42% of Indonesians aged 13–15 years smoked. For teens of this age, smoking is still considered ‘cool’ and ‘manly’, especially among boys. Many of them live within communities with heavy concentrations of smokers and face constant exposure to the habit at home and at school.

Due to high demand and loose regulation, the tobacco industry in Indonesia is thriving. The rising number of child smokers is part of a bigger trend. With adverts mushrooming on television, on billboards, stickers, and more, the number of adult smokers, both male and female, shows no sign of declining.

Within this climate, reducing smoking among children will take a much larger effort than individual therapy.