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Smoking Toddler: Blame Big Tobacco

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t have Internet access), you must have seen — or at least heard about  — the latest viral sensation, the video circulating of Ardi Rizal, the 2-year-old Indonesian boy smoking cigarettes. Cable news networks, the nightly news programs, and parenting web sites (including this one) all played up the story which was guaranteed to attract attention.

Not surprisingly, people were outraged. Who wouldn’t be? I don’t think anyone would argue that giving cigarettes to a 2-year-old is a good or even acceptable idea. It was even more disturbing to learn that the boy’s father first gave him cigarettes when he was only 18 months old.

But I couldn’t help but feel icky about the whole thing. Obviously, I felt disgusted by the idea of a toddler with a nicotine habit. But my real problem with the video is that it made it too easy for us to feel superior to this kid and his family.

Watching this clearly unhealthy, obese child inhale tobacco allowed the rest of us parents — whether we’re “attachment parents” or Ferber-followers — to feel quite smug. For once, we could all agree to be outraged about the same thing.

Sure, my husband and I might occasionally count fruit snacks towards our kid’s daily recommended allowance of fruits, but we would never let a toddler smoke. It’s always reassuring to know that you’re not the worst parents in the world.

Besides, Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams smartly points out that this kid’s parents aren’t the only ones at fault. We should also blame Big Tobacco.

Sadly, the smoking toddler isn’t such an anomaly in Indonesia, where 25 percent of children ages 3-to-15 have tried cigarettes.  A decade ago, the average age of beginner smokers was 19 but a recent study found that the average age for trying cigarettes is now seven.

And among those kids who have tried smoking, 3.2 percent are said to be active, addicted smokers.

In Indonesia, where the rate of child smokers continues to rise, there is no ban on public smoking and no age limit on who can purchase cigarettes. While there are rules regulating tobacco advertising in the U.S., that’s not the case in Indonesia, where tobacco companies are free to advertise on television and sponsor entertainment events.

In April, singer Kelly Clarkson dropped tobacco sponsorship for her Jakarta concert after anti-smoking groups protested, accusing her of encouraging her young fans to smoke.

So if we’re going to be appalled, we should probably direct our disgust and anger at Big Tobacco and not at this poor addicted kid who has been turned into an international freak show.

Photo: Hindustan Times

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