Indonesia Expat

The Topic of Cancer

The Topic of Cancer

The ramblings of an anti-smoking expat based in Batam

The Topic of Cancer
David Metcalf Photography

I detest smoking. Starting with the basic ritual of taking dried leaves rolled in paper, setting fire to them and then inhaling the fumes, for me personally, is abhorrent and against the very laws of nature. Then there’s the smell. Heavy smokers never realise that their skin, hair, clothing and immediate surroundings stink of rancid tobacco and old ashtrays, furthermore, they never will be aware of this as they seem to be immune to the offending odour. Throw in the ‘addiction factor’ that the habit encourages, it is embarrassing in the extreme seeing the utter desperation and need for a ‘nicotine fix’ displayed by smokers deprived of their drug for even a few hours.

A good friend of mine from the UK secured an overseas posting in the Far East; it was his first non-smoking intercontinental flight and he left Heathrow fit, fine and looking forward to a new job. By Singapore he was a gibbering wreck. As the wheels hit the tarmac, he had his seatbelt unfastened and all his carry-on baggage clutched in his hands. The second the aircraft came to a standstill, he was on his feet, shoving aside anyone in his path; fellow travellers, small children, pregnant women, aircrew, anyone! Ignoring angry protests, he elbowed and pushed his way to the front of the disembarkation exit, was first through the doors even before fully open and once free of the aircraft confines, proceeded to run around Changi Airport in total panic, searching for ‘Smoking Zones’; so acute was his craving.

Of course this would never happen in Indonesia. The smoker would just light up anywhere he felt like it, safe in the knowledge that no one would confront or chastise him.

There are three basic signs in the country that cannot be translated adequately into Bahasa Indonesia; ‘Please queue behind the yellow line’, ‘Remain seated until the aircraft has come to a complete standstill’, and ‘No Smoking’.

Not long after I arrived in Indonesia, I was on a flight from Surabaya to Makassar. Fifteen minutes after takeoff, the offending smell of cigarette smoke started to drift around the cabin, despite there being signs everywhere forbidding this, and just to make sure everyone had understood, it was clearly mentioned in the pre-flight safety briefing that this was a ‘No Smoking Flight’. I buzzed for the stewardess and informed her that someone was smoking, and, just in case she had forgotten, that it was in contradiction of the airline safety policy. She looked uncomfortable and appeared to be unsure what action to take, so I prompted that she should identify the offending person and point out the error of their ways. No, not an option, because that, of course, would mean a direct confrontation, so she responded in the ‘Indonesian way’ and asked if I would like to move seats.

Closer to home, my kids have always been well aware of my fascist views on the subject, so you can imagine the reaction when my son informed me that a teacher at his school announced that smoking was not harmful “in moderation”. My wife hid the keys to all our transport until I calmed down, about six months later.

Whilst ‘grounded’, I shot off emails to the teacher in question, the school principal and the governors and I am still waiting for a response. My wife, however, is of the opinion that they now consider me a “bule nutter” and are probably too frightened to enter into any correspondence.

OK, then why are my views so extreme? I have never smoked, never tried it, and always considered it an anti-social, smelly, pointless waste of money. That’s just my opinion and it’s a free world, you just don’t light up in my world. If you want to smoke at my house, fine, just stand in the garden and make sure your stubs are disposed of cleanly and safely.

I am prepared to live and let live, but my negative viewpoint on smoking has steadily worsened, particularly in the past ten years as I have lost seven people close to me due to tobacco related demise. They were all heavy smokers and their deaths were not the gentle passing away peacefully we all hope for; they were harrowing, painful, horrible deaths without a trace of dignity.

But despite well-publicised bans and controls, the adverts and promotions continue, all aimed squarely at the country’s youth, showing smoking to be macho, tough and cool. Nobody is remotely concerned seeing eight and nine-year-olds strolling around with cigarettes hanging out of their faces, and why should anyone worry? Dad smokes, Granddad smokes, just about every male member of the family smokes, and in fact not smoking is essentially considered fey, limp wristed, and let’s not pull any punches here, downright unpatriotic.

Those are just a few of the many problems that face non-smokers in Indonesia; those that do indulge just cannot see that there is anything wrong with polluting the air in the presence or near vicinity of those who do not share their habit. After all, no one they know or associate with has ever complained before.

Health warnings on cigarette packs are pointless and completely ignored. After taking one Indonesian forty-a-day co-worker to task for being unable to walk up three flights of stairs without gasping for breath, he completed an extended bout of coughing then smiled and shook his head ruefully in the manner of someone about to impart information to a not very bright child.

All those health and safety warnings are just marketing tricks by foreign tobacco companies trying to get people to switch to their low-tar brands. There is no medical evidence at all that smoking is bad for your health, even one of our ministers said so.

And of course no one checked to see if he had interests in any local cigarette manufacturers did they?

Why would he lie? He’s a politician?

Question asked and answered, I do believe.

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