More than two-thirds of all men in Indonesia smoke cigarettes, while 35 percent of the population as a whole lights up, putting the vast archipelago nation second only to Russia (39 percent) on the globe’s list of biggest puffers.
The Associated Press reported that a survey released Tuesday indicated that 67 percent of all Indonesians above the age of 15 smoke -- not surprising in a country where tobacco is very cheap and cigarette advertising chokes the landscape and airwaves.
In 1995, only 53 percent of Indonesian men smoked.
Youths (which the survey did not cover) are also smoking.
The University of Indonesia's Demographic Institute discovered that 426,000 Indonesians aged 10 to 14 were smoking in 2010, up from 71,000 in 1995. One-fourth of teenage boys between the age of 13 and 15 get addicted to cigarettes which cost as little as $1 a pack, or a few cents each.
The consequences have been devastating.
According to the World Health Organization, smoking-related illnesses kill about 200,000 Indonesians yearly.
Indeed, Indonesia is one of a handful of countries that did not sign the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which means cigarette companies can advertise anywhere they like.
"We have failed in protecting our people," said Health Minister Nafsiah Mboi, according to the AP.
"We have been defeated by the tobacco industry. ... We don't want this, we cannot accept this because our job is to protect people from cigarettes."
The survey also revealed that almost 80 percent of Indonesians are exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes, offices or in public places.
"How is the number of parents smoking at home with kids so high? It means that they are damaging their children's lungs, whether intentionally or not," Mboi added. "As the health minister, I am ashamed to let this condition continue."
The AP noted that the Jakarta government has failed to implement anti-tobacco legislation and regulations that it passed three years ago.
"[The laws are] just sitting there," said Mark Hurley of the Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "I think if there was high-level approval, the health regulations would have been passed a long time ago."
Indonesia, the AP noted, is the fifth-largest cigarette-producing market in the world. The government generates 6 percent of its revenue from taxes on tobacco.
Despite the free rein that the tobacco industry enjoys in Indonesia, smoking appears to be the preserve of men. Only 3 percent of Indonesian women smoke in this conservative Islamic society.
Nonetheless, as the tobacco industry faces increased regulations, fines and advertising bans in the West, they are clearly flourishing in the emerging markets.
Hermann G. Waldemer, chief financial officer at Phillip Morris, named Indonesia as one of its biggest growth markets.
''We're just doing extremely well,'' he told analysts. ''The elements are all there for a very positive performance to continue in the Indonesian market.''
Professor Mike Daube, a WHO tobacco control adviser and president of the Australian Council on Smoking and Health, lamented to the Sydney Morning Herald: ''They [cigarette companies] are just willfully imposing a pandemic on developing countries. They've known for more than 60 years that smoking kills. This is going to cause far more deaths than any wars we've ever seen.''
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.