From Age 2 to 7: Why Are Children Smoking in Indonesia?

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Marketing Cigarettes to Young People

In 2008, Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris USA, spun off its international operations, Philip Morris International. In 2005, PMI had acquired Indonesia's third largest tobacco company, Sampoerna. Selling a mix of Philip Morris brands and popular Sampoerna brands, PMI is now the number one tobacco company in Indonesia, with an estimated 30 percent of the market.

But to what extent does PMI market to young people? ABC News obtained internal documents from 2005, when PMI was acquiring Sampoerna. These documents target one Indonesian brand, A-Mild to become the "destination brand… for aspirational young adult smokers."

A-Mild "does not just understand the spirit of the new generation of Indonesians, but it is also their spirit / their voice!" said another document.

ABC News wanted to talk to Philip Morris International, whose headquarters are in New York. After they declined, they sent this e-mail:

"We support the strict regulation of tobacco products. In Indonesia we have repeatedly urged the government to introduce tobacco regulation that bans sales to minors, restricts advertising and sponsorship and mandates stronger health warning requirements."

Critics say that PMI's advertising, packaging and marketing is seen by children. Tobacco companies in Indonesia routinely sponsor rock shows in outdoor venues and on television, in ads that feature attractive young people.

In a second e-mail, Philip Morris International wrote to ABC News:

"We have also taken several steps in the absence of comprehensive regulation, such as restricting access to events we sponsor to people aged 18 and above, requiring proof of age with a valid ID card."

ABC News also found tobacco billboards and even a kiosk near a school, where students were able to buy individual cigarettes for about a dime.

PMI responded: "Clearly cigarettes should not be sold to minors, whether individually or in packs. This practice highlights the need to have a minimum age law in place and, importantly, enforced. We will continue to encourage the Indonesian government to introduce a ban on sales to minors in the shortest possible time frame."

"Philip Morris [International] has maintained a standard public stance, that it does not market to children, that it does not want children to smoke," said tobacco control activist Mary Assunta, who has worked in Indonesia. "But the evidence on the street says otherwise, that they need to market to children, because we know that the bulk of smokers start smoking when they are children. You've got to catch them young."

Matthew Myers, the president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, calls Indonesia "the Wild West for the tobacco industry."

"We see marketing practices that we haven't seen in the west in 20, 30 and 40 years," he said.

Anti-tobacco legislation has died in parliament, tied up by red tape, and, critics say, tobacco industry influence. This is a place where " pro-tobacco" rallies are organized by tobacco farmers and even religious groups. Recently, thousands surrounded the presidential palace protesting a new bill that would ban cigarette advertising and sponsorship, prohibit smoking in public and add graphic images to packaging.

In 2009, there was even a clause taken out at the last minute from a health bill saying cigarettes are addictive. The Center for Public Integrity's International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, in conjunction with ABC News, has reported on barriers to passing tougher anti-tobacco legislation.

"Indonesia is the perfect example of what happens when you let the industry do whatever it wants to market to young people and the government does nothing to counteract it," said Matthew Myers. "It's a deadly combination. A government who's doing nothing to protect its citizens and a tobacco industry that will market to anybody of any age."

Indonesia's Minister of Health, Dr. Endang Sedyaningsih, who studied at Harvard University, said more than 400,000 people die in Indonesia every year of tobacco-related causes. But she said she can't push too hard for change, for fear her efforts will backfire if she does.

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