Tag Archives: tobacco

Indonesia’s smoking clinic featured on Al-Jazeera

I’ve written quite a bit about a bunch of Indonesians who claim they can treat cancer and all sorts of other ailments with magic cigarettes. It’s bizarre stuff. The Sydney Morning Herald and AFP news agency have picked up on the story. Now Al-Jazeera and the Global Post are joining in. The images tell 1000 words, but still the government has done nothing to intervene:

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Cranberries etc peddle tobacco to Indonesian kids

Delores O'Riordan of the Cranberries giving a peace sign - or is she asking her fans for a smoke?

It’s that time of year again. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was ranting and raving against the likes of Wolfmother and Chris Carrabba for accepting tobacco sponsorship to play in Indonesia. Well, another crop of muso sell-outs led by the Cranberries (that’s what’s-her-face pictured left) are lining up like dirty little piggies at the tobacco-money trough to play at the Java Rockin’ Land music festival from July 22 to 24.

In other words, they’re telling Indonesian kids it’s cool and sophisticated and very, very sexy to smoke. Nice one, creeps.

Here’s a message from a kind reader, Marita Hefler, drawing my attention to the event and a petition against the show’s tobacco sponsorship. Marita writes:

Hi there, great writing – love your posts about the tobacco industry in Indonesia. Java Rockin’ Land is happening again 22-24 July, with Gudang Garam the main sponsor. There is a petition urging all the bands involved to demand the sponsorship be dumped, see: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-international-bands-to-drop-tobacco-sponsorship-in-indonesia. So far, no artist has responded. Yet again, double standards prevail in the lineup: the Good Charlotte frontman is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and he and his brother have their own children’s foundation; 30 Seconds to Mars are active in environmental causes, and lead singer Jared Leto support Elysium, a charity to support critically ill children; Neon Trees have said they don’t want to be part of tobacco sponsorship and have played at an anti-smoking gig; Ed Kowalczyk is a World Vision rep. Blood Red Shoes have supported a cancer charity, and The Cranberries are well-known for speaking out about political issues. Apparently international bands just dump their principles in a bin before they board a plane to Jakarta. Disgraceful.

To these musicians I say: Do the right thing. Follow the example of Alicia Keys or Kelly Clarkson, and demand the tobacco companies cancel their sponsorship of the event. Failing this, cancel your shows. That’s the only way you can salvage your credibility in the eyes of people who care about kids in countries like Indonesia, where they are the explicit targets of an aggressive and foul Big Tobacco marketing campaign the likes of which the West has not seen in decades (because it was made illegal). By playing at this event you are being used by tobacco companies to create young nicotine addicts in a way that would be unacceptable and illegal in your home countries.

Acceptance of the tobacco money means you are either desperate for cash, or so greedy that you don’t give a damn about your young fans. Or both. Oink oink!

(Photo courtesy of Joe Crimmings Photography)

Tobacco ad of the day: miracle electro-smokes!

On world No Tobacco Day, your featured cigarette ad from times past and, in Indonesia, present:

I’m not sure if you can read the newspaper “article”. It says:

Scientific miracles never cease!… Now see what modern electronics has done to increase your cigarette enjoyment! With electronic accuracy, Accu Ray checks and controls the making of your Chesterfield. For the first time you get a perfect [even smoke] from end-to-end. You’ll marvel at the extra flavour that comes through. Yet because this measurably better cigarette smokes more slowly – you enjoy a cool mildness never possible before. From first puff to last, Chesterfield gives you a smoke measurably smoother… cooler… best for you! In the whole wide world, no cigarette satisfies like a Chesterfield!

Looks like they also boost eyebrow growth (obviously tastes have changes in that department over the years … ).

Those of us from developed countries might laugh and recognise this as the old game Big Tobacco played on us for years – dressing up toxic cigarettes in pseudo-science and technology and selling them as healthy, life-enhancing products.

In developing countries like Indonesia – the new front line for international efforts to reduce death and disease from smoking – it’s not funny. Cigarette advertising is ubiquitous and The Jakarta Post, the country’s oldest English-language broadsheet newspaper, has repeatedly published uncritical articles in its editorial pages about how local scientists are using advances in nantotechnology to make “divine cigarettes” that are not only healthy, they can treat cancer. Even Chesterfield didn’t go that far.

(For more old tobacco ads, see Stanford School of Medicine’s great gallery)

No Tobacco Day in Indonesia? Try a ‘health cigarette’

As the world marks No Tobacco Day, Indonesia is again in the spotlight and The Jakarta Post has again covered itself in infamy. On the eve of today’s event, the English-language daily published another installment in its bizarre campaign to promote “healthy cigarettes”. Using pseudo-scientific language, the author of an “opinion” piece claims that cancer patients are being successfully treated with scientifically altered cigarettes that vacuum up all harmful “free radicals” linked mercury.

If it wasn’t so sad it would be funny:

… apparently, a biochemist from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) has found a way to do just that — neutralise tobacco through a nanobiological process. i.e. a process characterised by the interplay between physics, materials science, synthetic organic chemistry, engineering and biology. The researcher has successfully treated a number of terminal lung cancer patients through a detoxification method that includes smoking the “healthy cigarettes” of her invention.

The unnamed scientist sounds suspiciously like Dr. Greta Zahar, of “Divine Cigarettes” fame. But Alita Damar, the writer of the opinion piece, seems to follow the template set by Australian contributor Murray Clapham last year and doesn’t name the mastermind behind this historic medical breakthrough. Best to keep all those desperate cancer sufferers guessing! She continues:

Indeed, the nanostructure molecular blocks of these health cigarettes remove the electrons of the free radical gases contained in tobacco smoke, in particular those promoted by mercury, thereby neutralising the ill-effects of smoking. Unlike regular cigarettes, this cigarette smoke is “odorless”.

So all the harmful effects of smoking, from impotence to stroke and heart disease and emphysema, not to mention cancer, are nullified by this new treatment. And what of the doubters? They’re dismissed out of hand:

Naturally, the controversial method has raised controversy [spellbinding wordplay here] in the wake of the anti-tobacco campaign here and around the world. Speculation has also been rife that she might work for the tobacco industry. It’s not true, of course. Years ago most patients would only survive in the next few months due to their poor prognostics, but many of whom are still alive.

And what, dare we ask, is the evidence that smoking such cigarettes cures or halts the spread of cancer? None. Unless you factor in the power of the placebo. In the absence of any evidence, we must conclude that the free radical, nano-engineering blah blah being touted here is just another form of “alternative medicine” which desperately ill people will try as a last resort. And as The Economist noted last week, there is very little evidence that alternative medicines work beyond the placebo effect, which may be considerable.

Damar claims that the mysterious researchers are part of the “complexity science” movement, and she notes that they have “presented” their findings at international meetings:

As controversial as it may seem, the detoxification process is based on meta-engineering, for example, the development of new knowledge…

This science, which includes the less popular quantum physics, deals with cells and interaction between cells. It thereby enables a better understanding on how the whole body system functions, thus leading to the achievement of “holistic health”. Hence, we are speaking of a science that potentially brings about breakthroughs in medical science which is generally based on reductionism, or a science that may well “revolutionise” medicine.

The detoxification method has been presented in a number of international forums attended by scientists working on Theoretical Physics and Nano or Computer Science, such as the recent ICEME (International Conference on Engineering and Meta-Engineering) in Florida, the US.

I looked up the proceedings of this conference (which one anonymous blogger described as “junk” ) and found the paper to which Damar appears to be referring. It’s by Sutiman B. Sumitro, identified as representing the Department of Biology and “Laboratory of Molecular Biology” at Brawijaya University in West Java.

The paper is titled “Study on Biradical Based Complex Structure: A PossibleWay to Find out Natural Nanoparticles from the Human Body”. A paper with the same name by Sutiman Sumitro  also appears on the fascinating website of something called the Indonesia Nanobiology Institute.  Take the time to read the 4-page paper and decide for yourself if it’s credible. I’m not a scientist so I can only guess.

Sumitro is a long-standing associate of Zahar, that “strange granny” I’ve mentioned before. They seem to be the driving forces of the “nanobiology institute” and co-author articles posted there. Check out the paper titled “Overcoming Cigarette for Health without altering the Flavor (Brief illustration of scientific background and evidences)”. Fascinating. It says Zahar is from the “Free Radicals Institute” of Malang. So many institutes I just can’t keep up. Here’s the abstract, or as the authors put it, the “Basic Concept and Philosophy”:

This is about technology to eliminate free-radicals and to transform particulates contained in the smoke having characteristic to develop order. The idea is based on the assumption that in the biological system, life is an ordered system with internal driven activities. We consider a complexity concepts cover self-organization and edge-of-chaos phenomena in the living systems. As may we know that in the basic process of life (called metabolism), there is ceaseless flow of energy and matter through a network of chemical reactions, which enables a living organism to continually generate, repair and perpetuate itself. Thermodynamically, the ordered structure of the living system is maintained by continually exert entropy to the outside of the system.

Pretty clear, yeah? They even include a diagram to illustrate “complexity in living system”:

So, we can rest assured the Nobel committee is on its way to Bandung or Malang (or wherever) to bestow its honours on Dr. Zahar (who has previously stated she has no interest in having her work reviewed by “Western” scientists), her colleague  Sutiman Sumitro and their groundbreaking team. When are all those silly Western evidence-freaks going to come to their senses?

Sadly, The Jakarta Post isn’t the only outlet for those willing to peddle this stuff. Take a look at this blog for more.

For a dose of reality, check out this story in the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday, with the depressing stats on smoking in Indonesia.

Or check the National Cancer Institute’s website and read what it has to say about free radicals (such as oxygen) and antioxidants (such as vitamin C). It says that while serious research is ongoing, recent “large-scale, randomised clinical trials reached inconsistent conclusions” about whether antioxidants slow or prevent the development of cancer. As for actually reversing that damage, there seems to be no evidence at all.

There is also serious research being done into the use of nanoparticles to fight cancer. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, have sent gold nanoparticles into the nuclei of cancer cells and killed them (NB: sent particles into cancer cells, not used particles to hoover up free radicals). Their research has been cited as a communication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

I’d love to know who is behind these opinion pieces and features in The Jakarta Post, coming as they do on the eve of No Tobacco Day and as the government tries to improve its appalling record on smoking regulations. It wouldn’t have anything to do with the tobacco industry’s advertising dollars, would it?

Looking for a no-smoking zone in Indonesia

A website sent in by a reader seems to be a compilation of pictures of Indonesian men smoking in shops. It happens all the time and there’s nothing non-smokers can do except leave the shop. You’d have more luck asking the pope to dance the can-can than getting one of these guys to stub out their cigarettes or take it outside.

Check it out – http://itcroxymasjakarta.wordpress.com

I recently took a friend to Cork and Screw (Kuningan), an up-market wine bar and restaurant in Jakarta, and asked if they had a non-smoking area. The waiter, all dressed up like he was on the Champs Elysees, looked bemused and had to think about what we meant. Finally he told us that if we didn’t like cigarette smoke we could eat dinner  out on the service bar near the cash register. In other words they didn’t have a non-smoking area. The waiter explained that it was a wine bar, and people like to smoke when they drink wine.

Silly me, thinking that a restaurant in the 21st century that aspires to be cosmopolitan and sophisticated would have a non-smoking area. In other countries, of course, I might have trouble finding a smoking area, because the whole restaurant would be a smoke-free, healthy breathing kind of place. But no, this is Indonesia, and it has a very, very long way to go.

It was early and not very busy so my friend and I decided to put up with the smoke and eat anyway. We ordered a hugely overpriced bottle of wine (alcohol is the drink of the devil and rich foreigners, you see, so it is subject to massive taxes in mainly Muslim Indonesia) and asked for the menus. When the wine came we tasted it and both agreed it was off. It had soured, probably because it had been exposed to varying temperatures as it was transported from Australia. The waiter didn’t know what we were talking about, and offered to give it to us in different glasses. We said no thanks. Then a more senior waiter came over and said he would have to get the restaurant’s in-house “sommelier” to taste the wine. I watched as he took the bottle over to a guy who was smoking cigarettes at the bar with a woman, who was also smoking and drinking a giant fruit cocktail with a pink umbrella. The “sommelier” swished a bit of wine around in his glass and had a couple of gulps, but seemed unable to decide if it was OK. He gave the glass to one of the bar tenders who also had a swig before passing it over to a third bar tender for yet another taste. Strange sort of sommelier, I thought to myself. Low self-esteem, perhaps? Lacking confidence? Anyway, the waiter brought the bottle back to us and told us the wine was in fact good. We said no thanks, the wine was in fact off. Then the restaurant’s manager come over and had a taste himself. He said maybe it would be better if he chilled it for us for precisely two minutes. We said no thanks that would make no difference at all. So the manager said he would talk to his number-one sommelier, the really serious expert in the house, who ended up being the woman I’d noticed smoking at the bar. She put down her fruit cocktail and cigarette and had a sip, then another, etc etc etc. Finally she came over and said the wine was good. I told her the wine was not good and we weren’t going to pay for it. By this stage my friend and I were laughing. At least they had the decency to accept our position, but it took an awful lot of rather silly posturing before they did.

My friend and I concluded that it’s a waste of time trying to buy wine with a meal in an Indonesian restaurant unless you want to pay about $80 for a $30-dollar bottle. Otherwise, you pay $40 for the cheapest plonk they have. As for trying to escape the smokers, forget it.

Meanwhile the country continues to bow to Big Tobacco and sidestep meaningful reform to its smoking regulations that would bring it in line with the rest of the world. The latest news is that regulations to limit cigarette advertising will not be brought in as planned because of “technicalities”.  As Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of the National Commission for Child Protection, told the Jakarta Globe, the government’s decision contradicted the Health Law.

The law clearly states tobacco as an addictive substance and clearly addictive substances should not be advertised. The government should ask themselves, what do they care about more, income or the future or our children?

If you go to that Jakarta Globe link, check out the comment from the religious nut regarding tobacco and the Koran. Smoking  can “stop you from the sole purpose of having been sent to the world, namely the remembrance of Allah”.

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a few other reasons to live.

Tobacco ad of the day: smoking as slimmer!

You'll be even slimmer when you're dead

This one goes out to all those women in developing countries who think smoking is a status symbol. Smoking won’t empower you; it will just make you stink and look stupid.

(For more old tobacco ads like this see the Stanford Medical School)

Tobacco ad of the day: smoking as medicine!

Today’s darkly amusing tobacco ad goes out to none other than our favourite “doctor” Greta Zahar, she of “divine cigarette” fame. The esteemed Indonesian “healer” has thoroughly demolished my criticism of her methods, so all I can do is refer you to her website and let you inhale her in her own inimitable words.

Here’s a little sample:

The cigarette advertisement (health warnings) on cigarette boxes is part of the “Nicotine War” program. It is indeed strange that our fathers who were heavy smokers who had many children were obviously not impotent, and we have not heard anybody having lung cancer in their villages, while those who suffer lung cancer are those who have money and amalgam fillings in their teeth.

That’s actually one of the more coherent passages in what is a truly mystifying website. As Craig Brown wrote of the challenge for the parodist who attempts to mock Germaine Greer, Zahar “leaves no room for improvement: it’s perfect as it is”.

PS: The Sydney Morning Herald’s Tom Allard wrote a nice piece about Indonesia’s tobacco habit earlier this month, mentioning Zahar’s invention.