The Indonesian Chain-Smoking Toddler


Smoking in Indonesia is a very common practice; in fact it is the 5th largest tobacco market in the world. The smoking of kreteks (clove-flavoured cigarettes) is considered to be part of the national culture. Frighteningly, a large number of these smokers are children, and the tobacco companies even deliberately target them. It is so common for children to smoke that a couple of years ago no one in Indonesia apparently even saw anything wrong with a toddler smoking – a 2 -year-old boy, Ardi Rizal made international headlines in 2010 when he was shown sitting on his toy jeep puffing on a cigarette. This naturally caused outrage around the world.

When a TV crew tracked Ardi down to a small fishing village in Java, Sumatra, his parents admitted that Ardi’s smoking was not a one-off. Far from it – he actually smoked around 40 a day, having first smoked at the age of 18 months! His parents gave him a cigarette, as they did not see anything wrong with it. His mother Diana said: “He is totally addicted. If he doesn’t get them, he gets angry and screams and batters his head against the wall. ” His father Mohammed, a fishmonger, says: “He looks pretty healthy to me. I don’t see the problem.” (Quoted in article on news website, May 2010.).

The family have featured in a recent TV documentary called Body Bizarre, which shows how the little boy is being given therapy to cure his nicotine addiction. The aim is to try to refocus Ardi on more age-appropriate activities, and educate his parents on the health dangers. By the end of the programme, Ardi has given up his 40-a-day habit. He has, however, developed a worrying cough, which doctors suspect is smoking-related TB. He is also very overweight. The question is asked if Ardi has replaced his nicotine addiction with food, but paediatrician Dr William Nawawi thinks that Ardi’s obesity is directly related to his smoking.

He explains: “One of the effects of nicotine is to release a hormone that can cause resistance to insulin, so the blood cannot break down glucose. This will make Ardi become bigger and bigger.“ (Interestingly, this just shows that smoking does not always keep your body weight low – sometimes it can have the completely opposite effect!)

Yet Ardi’s mother admits that she still catches her son with a cigarette at times because people in the town offer it to him. He also uses smoking to get his own way. “If I don’t buy him toys” she says “he threatens to start smoking again.”

A shocking case, I am sure everyone will agree. Even if he quits completely, who knows what damage has already been done to Ardi, both physically and psychologically?

I hope that you enjoyed this blog and your votes and comments are much appreciated.


Photo courtesy Flickr creative commons.


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