Heartbreaking photo essay tells the story of Indonesia’s smoking children … thank you Philip Morris

Five-year-old Ardian Azka Mubarok smokes at his home in near Garut, Indonesia on March 27, 2015. (Photo By: Michelle Siu)
Five-year-old Ardian Azka Mubarok smokes at his home in near Garut, Indonesia on March 27, 2015. (Photo By: Michelle Siu)

A heartbreaking story. Indonesia is one of the heaviest-smoking countries in the world. Seventy percent of the men smoke in that nation, and about 40 percent of boys aged 13-15.

But, these photos are unreal. Children as young as 8, 7 … even 5 YEARS OLD smoking, often times right in front of their parents. Diseases most smokers would be facing in their 50s, these kids can be looking forward to in their 30s and 40s.

Dihan Muhamad, who has smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, poses for a photo as he has his first cigarette at 7AM at his home before he attends his first grade class on February 10, 2014. (Photo By: Michelle Siu)
Dihan Muhamad, who has smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, poses for a photo as he has his first cigarette at 7AM at his home before he attends his first grade class on February 10, 2014. (Photo By: Michelle Siu)

Mother Jones posted a short article on this and a number of photos taken by Michelle Siu. It was a terribly short article, so, I decided to dig a bit deeper on Siu’s website. Her photo essay is called “Marlboro Boys.” Indonesia fits the mold perfectly of a developing nation and how Big Tobacco is exploiting weak governments and lax laws in these sorts of countries to push their products onto new markets (which often times translates into … kids). From Wiu’s blog:

Indonesia’s relationship with tobacco is complex. Cheap cigarettes, ubiquitous advertising, a powerful lobby with tight political connections and lack of law enforcement fuels a national addiction.

Indonesia holds one of the world’s highest rates of male smokes and it often begins at a young age. Boys are growing up in an environment where demand for tobacco is strong and foreign tobacco giants such as Marlboro maker Philip Morris are establishing themselves as smoking rates declines in other countries.

Young smokers begin the cycle of addiction but at a health cost for generations to come. The juxtaposition of young boys smoking like seasoned addicts is jarring yet this project is intended to not only shock and inform viewers but to demonstrate the lack of enforcement of national health regulations and to question the country’s dated relationship with tobacco.

Dihan Muhamad, who used to smoke up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, smokes while his mother breast feeds his younger sibling on February 10, 2014.(Photo By: Michelle Siu)
Dihan Muhamad, who used to smoke up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, smokes while his mother breast feeds his younger sibling on February 10, 2014.(Photo By: Michelle Siu)

I seriously doubt Philip Morris International or any other tobacco company gives a crap about these photos. There’s profits to be made. Tobacco is dying off in the West … pun intended … and there’s new markets to exploit. Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in the world with 250 million people … which the industry sees with lax public health education and laws as nothing more than 250 million potential smokers. Considering that 70 percent of its adult men are smokers, that means that more than 60 million men smoke in Indonesia … compare that to 45 million people total in the U.S. total. See, why Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are drooling over developing nations?

What the cultural conduit is that would get kids started smoking at 5, 6, 8 years old in Indonesia is beyond me. In talking to smokers in the U.S., the youngest ages I’ve heard for people starting smoking is perhaps 10 or 11 at the extreme. That vast majority of smokers start at more around 14 or 15. Something very, very wrong is happening in Indonesia. Wrong and heartbreaking.



Asinine camper rental company in New Zealand promotes cigarette smoking


A van rental company in New Zealand called Wicked Campers has annoyed some New Zealanders by painting some obnoxious slogans on its vehicles. They’ve painted slogans on their vans “Drink ’till she’s pretty” and “I tried to drown my sorrows, but I can’t get my wife to go swimming.” There’s one of an egg having sex with a chicken with “who came first” on the side of the van. There’s another one of Snow White smoking a crack pipe. Yeah, seriously, a crack pipe.

(I’ve actually seen some goofy campers painted up like this up in Canada, but they weren’t what I would call offensive. I loved this Primus van I saw in Banff a few years ago.)

Actual Canadian rental camper I saw in Banff.

Well, here’s the one that pissed me off: A slogan that says, “Smoking is cool.” And it shows some smiling guy smoking two cigarettes. That just left me thinking, “WTH, man!” I mean, the crack pipe one was bad enough, I can’t imagine there’s much of a crack epidemic in New Zealand, but why the hell would they have a van promoting cigarette smoking? For free?

Anyway, these campers are apparently hugely controversial in New Zealand and Australia. The Lonely Planet Travel Guide has erased the company from its publications, and a major NZ fuel vendor Z Energy is contemplating refusing to sell gasoline to anyone driving one of the campers. I know if I rented one of these things, I would want a big “Smoking is Cool!” on the side of my camper! Christ.

Probably the best approach are these sorts of boycotts. You could argue that being controversial gets them attention and attention is making them money, but when you’re getting kicked out of travel guides and facing fuel vendor boycotts, maybe you’ve taken the schtick too far.  You can still have goofy and silly paintings on your campers without going to such extremes to offend.

Study: No suicide risk for anti-smoking medications Chantix or Zyban


There has long been a lot of controversy swirling about Chantix because of concerns that it raises people’s risk of suicide. I had not heard the same thing about Zyban, but apparently there have been concerns about this drug, too.

The concerns were serious enough that warnings were required on boxes of Chantix and Zyban that in some people, they increased the risk of mood problems, which included the risk of suicide. It’s a big enough deal that airline pilots and air traffic controllers are actually forbidden from using Chantix or Zyban. It’s also a big enough deal that many doctors will not prescribe Chantix or Zyban for people trying to quit cigarettes.


However, a major study involving more than 8,000 patients in 16 countries showed no increase risk of suicide.

From SFGate:

The 8,144-patient, 16-country study divided participants into four groups, each receiving either Chantix, Zyban, a nicotine replacement patch or dummy pills. They got treatment for 12 weeks and then were followed for another 12.

Half the participants had existing psychiatric problems — depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia. Those conditions are more common in smokers than nonsmokers and make it harder to quit.

Among participants without psychiatric problems, the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior or other serious mental health issues was very low and statistically the same: about 1.3 percent for those taking Chantix, 2.2 percent with Zyban, 2.5 percent with the nicotine patch and 2.4 percent with a dummy pill. In the half with psychiatric problems, those risks were higher across the board: about 6.5 percent for Chantix and Zyban and 5 percent for the nicotine patch and dummy pill.

No participants committed suicide, though two taking dummy pills and one taking Zyban attempted it. The drugs can cause other side effects: mostly nausea, insomnia, abnormal dreams and headaches.

Chantix and Zyban “pose no greater risk for suicide or suicidal ideation than the patch or nothing,” concluded Dr. Norman Edelman, a pulmonary specialist and the American Lung Association‘s senior science consultant.

In response to this study, the manufacturers of Chantix and Zyban — Pfizer and GlaxoKlineSmith — are asking the Food and Drug Administration to remove the suicide warnings from their products. I also found online a veritable cottage industry of law firms willing to represent people wanting to sue drug companies over Chantix and Zyban over the reported side effects. I could see this getting messy.

From the article:

“We believe the available scientific information doesn’t support a boxed warning,” Dr. Freda C. Lewis-Hall, a psychiatrist and Pfizer’s chief medical officer, told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview.

Pfizer executives and longtime medicinal chemist Jotham Coe, the inventor of Chantix, think it’s been vindicated. Coe, who still works at Pfizer, is a former smoker who quit cold turkey after his father, uncle, aunt and both grandmothers died of cancer or emphysema after years of smoking.

“I understand how difficult and grueling the quitting journey can be,” he wrote.

New York-based Pfizer Inc. hopes to discuss the results with regulators around the world, including the FDA, which isn’t saying what it will do.

John Stossel reveals he has lung cancer; diagnosis doesn’t stop him from remaining a hopeless douche


This is a touchy subject for me, because I would never celebrate anyone getting lung cancer. Nobody deserves lung cancer, not for any reason.

So, I have to tiptoe carefully around what I want to say, which is John Stossel doesn’t exactly deserve lung cancer, but I will say that, man, his diagnosis is absolutely dripping with irony.

Stossel is a Libertarian wingnut who now works for Fox Business News. He’s too much of a dick to work at a legitimate news network anymore. The reason I find his diagnosis ironic is he has railed in the past against smoking bans as a violation of private property rights, and he claims there is no hard evidence that secondhand smoke is deadly. Never mind the fact that this has been decided by the U.S. Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health and about a million scientists that there is exceedingly overwhelming evidence that secondhand smoke absolutely is deadly and that people absolutely have gotten lung cancer from constant exposure to secondhand smoke; no, John Stossel is a Libertarian and like all Libertarians, they know more than everyone else. They are the smartest people in every room they walk into. Trying to “prove” the deadliness of secondhand smoke to a diehard Libertarian opposed to smoking bans would be like trying to prove evolution to a fundamentalist Christian. Save yourself the migraine.


Like I said, I’m not going to point at Stossel and go, “ha, ha!” because he now has lung cancer, the same disease that likely thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people have died from over the past 50 years from breathing other peoples’ cigarette smoke. I will say I’m enough of a jerk that I am actually having to fight the urge, however.

Stossel also doubled down on his doucheness by complaining about the medical system and whining that he got lousy customer service in the hospital because of “socialism.” Here’s his idiotic comments:

But as a consumer reporter, I have to say, the hospital’s customer service stinks. Doctors keep me waiting for hours, and no one bothers to call or email to say, “I’m running late.” Few doctors give out their email address. Patients can’t communicate using modern technology.

I get X-rays, EKG tests, echocardiograms, blood tests. Are all needed? I doubt it. But no one discusses that with me or mentions the cost. Why would they? The patient rarely pays directly. Government or insurance companies pay.

Customer service is sclerotic because hospitals are largely socialist bureaucracies. Instead of answering to consumers, which forces businesses to be nimble, hospitals report to government, lawyers and insurance companies.

This Crooks & Liars article makes a pretty good point that anyone who has ever dealt with a bank or an airline (Or WordPress or an Internet provider for that matter), knows damn well about how difficult it is to talk to a live person to get customer service. Yeah, that’s about socialism, all right.

He also claims he’s going to be OK and they caught the lung cancer early and that he’s at one of the top hospitals in the nation, paid for by what I’m sure is an excellent health plan from News Corp.  So, he’s got excellent coverage, they’re curing him, but he’s pissing about lousy customer service. This is beyond being an ingrate. This is typical Libertarian “what about me?” ingrate. Like every Libertarian, Stossel can’t seem to think past his own creepy mustache. Yes, I’m sure there is lousy customer service at times in the health care system, but a) does he actually think he’s the only person out there dealing with a cancer diagnosis? Guess what, pal, over half a million Americans a year get that diagnosis and most of them aren’t whining about customer service … that’s just you being you; and b), most of them are glad to get treatment, especially those people who would never receive treatment in a purely market-driven Libertarian health care system because they wouldn’t have coverage, and there’s lots of people whose coverage is crappier than yours and don’t get the luxury of treatment at one of the top hospitals in the country. I don’t see them going on TV to piss about it.

Honestly, I hope Stossel beats it. Sometimes illness and brushes with death actually changes people — but I seriously doubt that’s even possible with this nitwit.

Teen vaping rate continues to climb


Well, the Pollyanna side of me wants to say, “good news, bad news,” but I think it’s more bad than good.

According to the CDC, the teen vaping rate continued to climb in 2015. That’s the bad news. The good news is it isn’t climbing as rapidly as it was in 2014.

Teen Vaping Rate

The teen vaping rate is now 16 percent; roughly one teen out of six has vaped in the past 30 days. In 2014, it was 13.4 percent. That figure tripled from 2013, when it was just 4.5 percent. So, basically it went from increasing 200 percent in 2014 to about 20 percent in 2015. Is that good news? I don’t know. It could be the teen vaping market is as saturated as it’s going to get.

Hopefully, part of the reason for the slowdown is most states now do prohibit selling vaping products to teenagers However, it really isn’t very hard for kids to order vaping products online, which seriously needs to be banned by the FDA.

teen smoking

The FDA has been dawdling for well over a year now on e-cigarette regulations. And in that time, the teen vaping use continues to climb … though perhaps it isn’t quite “skyrocketing” like it was a couple of years ago. It’s damned frustrating. I cannot envision why it has taken so long to finalize regulations. All I can think of is the lawyers must be making the decisions at this point.

The draft FDA regulations that came out a while ago now were pretty weak, and didn’t do a heck of a lot to address teen vaping use. The FDA proposed banning sales to minors, but as I mentioned earlier most states already do this anyway. That won’t make a dramatic difference.

e-cig ad
A real e-cig ad.

The FDA neglected to ban online sales (you can’t sell cigarettes online), nor did the agency address e-cigarette marketing and advertising — both of these are serious issues that need to be dealt with in my opinion. E-cigarette companies are using the exact same kind of ads making e-cigs look sexy and sophisticated that cigarette companies successfully used for decades to make their products appear cool to kids.

I’m perfectly fine with people using e-cigarettes to quit smoking. When all else fails, I feel they have nothing to lose. And while I certainly don’t trust that e-cigarettes are 100 percent benign (the vapour is known to contain formaldehyde and diactyl) , they are less toxic than cigarettes.

However, I’m not cool with teenagers simply finding  different delivery system to get physically addicted to nicotine to begin with. And unfortunately, that is a big part of the e-cigarette market. The e-cigarette companies can act all innocent all they want … they’ve also put their brand names on women’s panties. That’s not about people getting off of cigarettes. That’s about enticing horny young teens to use your product.

The other good news is largely because of e-cigarettes, the teen smoking rate has basically completely collapsed. I saw one graph that showed that the 12th-grade smoking rate in 2013 is now at a minuscule 6.7 percent. When I started blogging about tobacco about 10-12 years ago, the teen smoking rate was pushing 30 percent.

The CDC report also states that the middle school vaping rate is about 5.3 percent. Again, this is up dramatically from 2011, when less than 1 percent of all middle schoolers were vaping.


Bloom County makes a little statement about smoking

Bloom County two

I saw a couple of cute Bloom County cartoons this week. Steve Dallas, the longtime chain-smoking sleazy lawyer of the strip, has a serious crush on Sue, the mother of Sam, a sick little boy Steve met in the hospital and has taken a liking to.

Steve has been smoking in Bloom County/Outland/Opus since 1981. It’s a very, very deeply entrenched part of his persona. He almost never doesn’t have the cigarette dangling from his mouth.


Steve visits Sue, smoking right in her face and she takes the cigarette out of his mouth and throws it away. Then, of course, slams the door in his face because he thinks she is a waitress at Hooters.

A very subtle moment. Steve Dallas’ character has changed from the 1980s. Berke Breathed is giving him a heart. Might Steve be forced to quit so he can be around Sue and Sam? I think it’d make a really funny storyline. And maybe it’s Breathed sending a signal that it’s time for Steve to quit.


Heavy smoking in preview for “The Nice Guys”

the nice guys 2

I was really annoyed at a preview I saw the other day for “The Nice Guys.” This is an R-rated movie that takes place in 1977.

One of the characters, a private eye played by Ryan Gosling, is apparently a heavy smoker. In the preview, he’s shown in virtually every scene smoking. Not just smoking, but in one scene actually smoking sitting next to his young daughter … indoors.

Man, my head exploded. I hate to be such a judgemental nerd about this stuff. I get the First Amendment and I get that this is obviously an R-rated movie taking place in 1977 … but the preview isn’t R-rated! There was no red band with this preview. It was an all-audience preview, not one of those red band previews that are only shown before R-rated movies.  It was part of some “pre- preview” studio feature they show before the previews begin along with Coca-Cola commercials (let me put it this way, the lights in the theatre were still on.). Is this being shown at PG movies? It better not be. And the smoking is what I would definitely call “pervasive.”

the nice guys 3

Hollywood has slowly and grudgingly gotten better about removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies marketed to kids. Not ideal, but it actually is tangibly improving.  But, this ticks me off that you will still see plenty of smoking in an all-ages preview for that R-rated movie. How hard would it have been for the studio to put together a preview excluding the smoking?  I’m assuming because of the R-rating, there’s probably plenty of salty language and violence in the movie, and manage to not show that in an all-ages preview.  This is something the MPAA needs to crack down on.

Anyway, I think this is indicative of how stubborn Hollywood continues to be about depictions of smoking in movies, and how much still needs to be done to get Hollywood to quit dragging its feet.

Liam Neeson
A preview shown on TV for “Up All Night.”

Anyway, that really pissed me off. It was the second time I’ve seen this in the past year. A few months ago, I saw a preview … on TV, no less, for some Liam Neeson movie called “Run All Night” showing Liam Neeson smoking. You can’t having smoking on network TV or tobacco commercials, but you can still have smoking in movie previews.

Anyways, here is the smoking preview for “The Nice Guys.”

Here is a non-smoking preview for “The Nice Guys” that I assume — and hope — is being shown at PG and PG-13 movies. See, how easy that was to make a non-smoking movie preview?



Tobacco disclaimer in “The Big Short”

the big short 3

We finally got around to seeing “The Big Short” this week, an excellent film that actually manages to be entertaining explaining the mortgage crisis and resulting massive economic collapse that happened in 2007 and 2008. Steven Carell is amazing in this film as an intense  hedge fund manager right on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Being a tobacco nerd, I noticed something kind of interesting about the movie. It’s very much an R-rated movie, with plenty of F bombs scattered throughout the film and a couple of brief scenes of nudity. (You can show as much smoking as you want in an R-rated movie, smoking is discouraged — not banned — in PG and PG-13 movies.)

However, there is virtually no smoking. There is a very brief scene of smoking in the first two minutes of the movie, flashing back to the boring old days of banking in the 1970s. A couple of bankers are shown smoking in boring-looking banking office. So, it’s historically accurate. Smoking rates were still really high in the 1970s.

the big short
The one very brief smoking scene in “The Big Short.”

After that very short scene, the movie quickly moves to the 1980s and then the 2000s. I don’t believe there was another smoking scene in the entire movie. Which is interesting, because it featured a bunch of richer-than-crap high rollers living it up in Las Vegas, Miami, etc. But, no smoking.

Here’s the part I actually found interesting, and I’ll be paying attention to see if I notice this in any more movies. During the closing credits of “The Big Short,” they showed a disclaimer that the producers did not receive any payments from the tobacco industry for the depictions of smoking in the movie (I got a screen capture of the disclaimer).

I had never seen one of these before. Why I thought it was so interesting is that one of the conditions of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement barred product placement in Hollywood movies 18 years ago. So, supposedly, studios have not been receiving payments from tobacco companies for nearly two decades.


I emphasize supposedly, because a very weird and inexplicable thing happened after the 1998 MSA … depictions of smoking in movies marketed to teens actually went UP, not down. Apparently, movie directors were giving tobacco companies all this advertising free of charge, out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m not being snarky, I really think they were doing this for free. Because Hollywood was extremely stuck in its way when it came to smoking and that cigarettes somehow made characters seem more cool and sophisticated.

Anyway, an interesting observation about “The Big Short.” It didn’t have all that much to do with the actual movie, but this disclaimer was a new thing to me.


Research: Smoking by pregnant mothers alters babies’ DNA


Wow, this is a big deal. Research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics shows that if pregnant women smoke, it can alter the DNA of their unborn children.

From an article by Medical Daily, reprinted by Raw Story. I’ll let it speak for itself:

“I think women already know that they shouldn’t smoke,”co-senior author Stephanie London told Medical Daily, noting that the new findings solidify evidence that smoking while pregnant does impact the fetus. “So it’s not like this ‘oh maybe it has some effect’ … we can physically see this evidence.”

The study, led by an international team of researchers, found that cigarette use during pregnancy resulted in some modifications in the fetus’ DNA. What’s more, these changes mirrored those seen in adult smokers.

“What surprised me most about the study is you see the same changes in a newborn from the mother smoking during pregnancy as you’d see  in an adult from their own smoking. Many of the same changes,” London said.

Researchers combed through data from 13 studies involving 6,685 newborns and their mothers from around the world. The mothers fell into one of the three categories: “sustained smokers” who continued to smoke daily throughout their pregnancies, and “non-smokers,” or those who smoked occasionally during their pregnancies. To examine the newborns’ DNA, researchers collected samples mainly from the blood in the umbilical cord after delivery.

The data showed that sustained smokers gave birth to children who had their DNA chemically modified in 6,073 places. Researchers said half of these locations were tied to specific genes related to the development of the lung and nervous system, smoking-related cancers, and birth defects such as having a cleft lip or palate. This means the offspring of mothers who smoked during pregnancy may be more likely to suffer health complications during their lifetime because smoking affects organ systems and developmental processes in newborns, London said.

Real ad or fake? You tell me.

“I find it kind of amazing when we see these epigenetic signals in newborns, from in utero exposure, lighting up the same genes as an adult’s own cigarette smoking. There’s a lot of overlap,” said London, an epidemiologist and physician at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). “This is a blood-borne exposure to smoking — the fetus isn’t breathing it, but many of the same things are going to be passing through the placenta.”

I read some of the comments on a couple of stories about this, with some smokers expressing skepticism about the results. Really? In this day and age? Smokers still in denial.

For me, the most shocking statement in this story wasn’t that smoking is thought to cause DNA damage in fetuses … it’s that in this day and age 12.3 percent of expectant mothers smoke. Holy Christ on a crutch .. that many pregnant women still smoke today? That sincerely blew me away.

Here’s the truth … it’s been known for some time that the chemicals in smoking, one of which is a radioactive isotope called Polonium-210,  tears apart the DNA in smokers’ lung cells, which is the No. 1 reason why some smokers get lung cancer.  So, why is it such a big leap for this people to believe some fairly extensive research showing potential DNA damage to fetuses? Especially when it’s been long known that smoking by pregnant women causes low birth rate and increases the risk of SIDS.

Real ad or fake? You tell me.

It’s certainly a sea change from old attitudes about pregnancy and smoking. Believe it or not, there was really, actually a real honest to goodness cigarette ad in the 1950s featuring a pregnant woman buying tobacco. No, not this fake ad from Bioshock Buried at Sea. A real ad. I included both. See if you can tell which one is fake and which one is for real.


Alaska Senate passes statewide smoking ban


Alaska, in all of its rugged individualism and Libertarian glory, was one of the last places I would expect to pass a statewide smoking ban. But, The Last Frontier state just might do it.

The Alaska State Senate passed a bill to ban smoking in all enclosed buildings, including bars and restaurants, 15-5. It now goes to the Alaska House.

Smoking in bars and restaurants is already banned in Anchorage, Juneau and a few other small cities in Alaska. Since Anchorage is the only major city in the state, roughly half the people in Alaska are already used to a bar and restaurant smoking ban.


The push for statewide bans has slowed down considerably in the past few years. The big push was between 2000 and 2010. I think the last state to implement a statewide smoking ban might have been Indiana in 2012, which banned smoking in restaurants, but not bars and casinos. Kansas might have been the last state to pass a total statewide ban in 2010. Pretty much everywhere where state bans were going to pass has already done it, and the holdouts are very conservative, very Republican states, mostly in the South, which tend to have anti-regulatory Legislatures (unless of course, they’re trying to regulate gay marriage or women’s reproductive organs.).

A total of 29 states have total smoking bans, while several other states have bans on smoking in restaurants and most other workplaces, but exempt bars. Even in the states without total smoking bans, most large cities have banned smoking in bars and restaurants. There’s at least 50 major cities in Texas with total smoking bans.

statewide smoking bans
I haven’t posted this map in a long time. Credit to Wikipedia.

So, there has been very little movement on the state smoking ban issue since 2012.

According to an article on KTUU Anchorage’s Website, a recent survey showed 69 percent support for a statewide smoking ban and 28 percent opposition.  The bill contains a cute little exemption for commercial fishing boats. You can still smoke in a fishing boat (which, I guess technically is a workplace.).

I have no idea if the bill will pass in the House or if the governor would sign, but passing so easily in the Senate and with 69 percent approval of the proposal, it’s looking positive.