I took my first puff of a cigarette when I was 15, and on the occasional night that my friends and I experimented with booze, some of us pretended we actually liked smoking, like we had been doing it for years. I liked how it reflected my teenage angst. Being troubled was cool. Looking back, there’s nothing more comical than a 15-year-old who’s been smoking for two weeks saying, “Yeah, I’m trying really hard to give up.” Fast forward 10 years and here I am. I’m 25, in Indonesia, still tempted by those wretched things that destroy so many lives, saying, “Yeah, I’m trying really hard to give up.” There’s nothing sadder than that.
I’m a faux smoker: I’ve been giving up since I started. The easiest stance to take on smoking is to be a social smoker in the process of quitting. The health conscious can say, “Well, at least she’s tying to quit, unlike the rest of them”, and the smokers can enjoy the fact that there’s one more of them hanging around to validate their habit.
I probably began smoking for other people’s benefit, to appear a certain way. Working in Sydney bars didn’t help. But the scary reality of it is, I’ve been a social smoker, supposedly quitting, for 10 years.
When doctors found I had irregular cervical cells that could lead to cancer, it scared me, and I did stop for months. But now it just takes one person at the table to light up or a few drinks and I’m at the mercy of the little devils. Mind you I’ll often only have one or two, but that makes all the difference the next day.
Indonesia, Jakarta in particular, is heaven for tobacco companies. You drive down the street and one brand of cigarettes has the same advertisement on telegraph poles lined up one after another. You can drive a good 10 kilometres and see the same advertisement every 100 metres. Pure mass advertising. Tobacco companies here can give free packets of cigarettes to kids at concerts as a promotion. People smoke in malls, restaurants, in the office and even on the bus. Tobacco companies sponsor just about all major events here, even sports events.
On Monday this week, the government said it was pushing a bill to curb cigarette advertising and sales. If it is passed, vendors will no longer be able to sell to students, which is legal now.
The Indonesian Ulema Council is pushing for the anti-smoking bill to be passed. Some have even called on the council to issue an edict to tell all Muslims not to smoke, which is probably a bit too extreme. It would be interesting, though, to see any government or religious group take such a strong stance against smoking, considering the stronghold tobacco companies have over governments.
Whatever the legislation, my goal is to go from social smoker to non-smoker. Wish me luck!