Why are Indonesia's tobacco farmers smoking giant cigarettes?
Because they're upset.
Thousands of tobacco farmers surrounded the presidential palace in Jakarta today, protesting a new tobacco bill that they say will result in massive job losses.
The new law would ban cigarette advertising and sponsorship, prohibit smoking in public and add graphic images to packaging.
Bad news for the farmers who help people in the world's third-largest tobacco consuming country get their fix.
Around 30 percent of Indonesians above the age of 10 smoke an average of 12 cigarettes a day, according to a 2008 report. And cigarettes are cheap at less than a dollar a pack.
These are the sort of numbers that make tobacco farmers happy.
These are the sort of numbers that make tobacco farmers dance.
(Photos above by Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)
But they are also the sort of numbers that worry health professionals.
According to the World Health Organization, smoking rates have risen six-fold in Indonesia over the last 40 years. Smoking kills at least 400,000 people every year.
The government seems more interested in the massive profits the multi-billion dollar industry rakes in than in how that industry may be damaging the health of patrons.
Indonesia is so lenient, in fact, that places like Griya Balur, a clinic that uses cigarette smoke to treat cancer and other illnesses, has gone unchallenged.
Griya Balur is located in Jakarta, and it may be the only clinic on the planet where doctors not only encourage their patients to smoke, but they also light the cigarettes for them. Even, at times, blowing the smoke directly into their ears.
In this photo, a clinic staff member uses a syringe without a needle to pump tobacco smoke into the skin of a patient at the Griya Balur. (Photos taken in March 2011 by Romeo Gacad/AFP/Getty Images)
Dr. Gretha Zahar, who founded the clinic, has a PhD in nanochemistry from Padjadjaran University in Bandung, West Java. She said that cigarette smoke helps remove mercury, which she says is the cause of cancer and other illnesses.
"Mercury is the cause of all illnesses. In my cigarettes — we call them Divine Cigarettes — there are scavengers that extract the mercury from the body," she has said.
Lung doctors, on the other hand, beg to differ.
Here's a video of the clinic from Al Jazeera: