Indonesia: “Sex, Lies and Cigarettes”

The World

Any American nostalgic for a 1960s approach to smoking might consider a trip to Indonesia.

Singles sell for 50 cents. Packs sell for $2. And you can smoke in the park, in restaurants and pretty much anywhere else.

A new Current TV documentary "Sex, Lies and Cigarettes" explores this nicotene-mad country and the Western forces feeding its love of cigarettes.

The central argument in "Sex, Lies and Cigarettes" is this: Western tobacco giants — fleeing shriveling sales, higher taxes and mounting legislation in the U.S. — have gravitated towards Asia.

Among the largest markets is Indonesia, the world's fourth-largest nation, an archipelago with little tobacco regulation and plenty of youth easily swayed by ubiquitous ads.

Trips to Indonesia, for me, inevitably trigger memories from my upbringing in a North Carolina textiles-and-tobacco region. Marlboro and Lucky Strike signs line the street. Men light cigarettes before eating and puff between bites. Ashtrays abound, even in government offices.

In "Sex, Lies and Cigarettes," you meet teen buskers who spend a third of their daily earnings — $1 — on smokes. You also meet a life-long smoker dying in a hospital. An unlikely Web celebrity, the so-called "smoking baby," gets a cameo at 28:00.

Since the documentary was filmed, there have been some developments in the pushback to Indonesia's lax smoking regulations: lawmakers may insist on graphic cigarette pack labels and touristed Bali has passed a code forbidding smoking in most public places.

But, for the most part, the documentary ably depicts a country with a bad smoking habit fueled by familiar players — think Philip Morris — in a developing tropical landscape.

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