As I watched the viral video of the “Smoking Baby” last year, I was just as incredulous as most. How was this happening while his entire family looked on with smiles?
But I was truly stunned when I found out that 2-year-old Aldi Rizal, aka the “Smoking Baby,” wasn’t an anomaly in Indonesia. Government figures show that 30 percent of high school and university students who smoke started before they were 10 years old. Even more alarming, three out of 100 Indonesian children are regular smokers, already hooked, by the age of 3.
The tobacco industry has always wanted their customers young — it’s the easiest way to create a loyal and life-long smoker — but these statistics suggest they’re succeeding more than ever at a time when the common public perception in the U.S. is that the war against Big Tobacco has already been won.
For decades in the U.S., activists and officials have fought to regulate Big Tobacco. There have been many gains, such as banning cigarette ads on billboards and television, the removal of animated characters from advertisements, restrictions on public smoking, and billions of dollars spent on anti-smoking campaigns.
Companies like Phillip Morris, which have seen their revenue in the U.S. decline in recent years because of these changes, have now set their sights elsewhere. They are targeting developing countries using tactics that would never be allowed in the U.S., including adding flavors that appeal to children, selling next to school grounds, and pushing tobacco and pop music together on television.
For Big Tobacco, Indonesia is the new Marlboro Country. They aren’t wasting any time getting as many young people as possible hooked on their products before regulations arrive. Now it is Indonesia’s turn to take on Big Tobacco — and it won’t be easy. Just doing a story involving the industry proved to be difficult. The tobacco reps in Indonesia and elsewhere are just as media-savvy and cunning as they have been for decades in the American tobacco wars.
Vanguard was able to see and hear how they speak behind closed doors by going undercover at the World Tobacco Conference in Jakarta. Viewers can watch them boast about Indonesia as a new haven for the tobacco industry.
No laws, no regulations, just profits and the health prospects of a generation up in smoke.
“Sex, Lies & Cigarettes” premieres on Current TV on Tuesday, June 28 at 9/8c. Watch the trailer below or click here for more info.