Friday, May 28, 2010

The smoking toddler and anti-smoker opportunism

Child welfare advocates, and the general public, are outraged at the story of a two year old Indonesian boy who allegedly has a two pack a day smoking habit. A video clip of the chubby youngster engaging his habit was posted to You Tube, but has since been removed.

Tabloids around the world are expressing shock and anger over the "disgusting" and "disgraceful" situation. And, the internet is lit up like a Christmas tree with accounts of the two year old nicotine “addict”. When I Googled “the smoking toddler”, I got 374,000 results in 26 seconds. I'm not at all sure if Barak Obama got that much press when he was elected President.

And, what has most people upset, and searching for a supply of tar and feathers, is the disclosure that his father apparently admits to giving him his first cigarette when he was only 18 months old. And, according to his mother the youngster is "totally addicted. If he doesn't get cigarettes, he gets angry and screams and batters his head against the wall."

But, while there can be no debate that the father's actions were the embodiment of stupidity, especially from a North American standpoint, I think calls for castration, or even tar and feathers, are a little extreme.

The father's actions were indefensible, and he'll likely pay for his folly through the justice system. Heru Kasidin, a spokesperson for the Women's Empowerment and Child Protection Ministry in Indonesia, says an investigation is underway.

But, as revolting as the father's actions may have been, I regard the reaction from some anti-smoker activists over this one-in-a-million situation as equally abhorrent. For there are some who apparently intend to use the abuse of this child as a propaganda tool to promote their anti-smoker agenda.

For example, Heru Kasidin, when announcing the investigation into the parents of the child offered that “weak regulations surrounding the tobacco industry had enabled [tobacco] companies to target young people.”

But, neither the tobacco companies nor their marketing strategies had anything to do with this incident. The child was not lured into experimenting with cigarettes after being exposed to a “powerwall” behind the cash register at the local “Mac's Milk”. He didn't pick up his habit watching Sigourney Weaver light up on screen. He's not smoking because he liked the pretty packaging or because he saw some adult puffing on a fag in a public park. He wasn't sold cigarettes by an undisciplined or inconsiderate store clerk.

If he's addicted to cigarettes, it's because a misguided father was derelict in his parental responsibility. And, for some anti-smoker advocates to try and re-direct public loathing of the father's actions to the tobacco companies is opportunism at it's most objectionable.

An article by Mary Elizabeth Williams in Salon says: “A child's welfare is still first and foremost his parents' responsibility. But before we get too comfortable in the knowledge that we'd never even expose our own babies to cigarettes, let alone hand them a pack, maybe we can redirect a little of that indignation toward a profitable industry that's worked so hard to pour smoke down those little lungs”.

But, the tobacco companies didn't pour smoke down those little lungs. His father did.

People are justifiably sickened by the father's irresponsible conduct. They should be. As a father of three (and grandfather to seven), I'm as angry as anyone that a parent would indulge in such abusive behaviour.

But, let's not let the emotional nature of the incident cloud our judgment. Let's not lose sight of the fact that the guilty party was the parent who taught this youngster to smoke in the first place; the party who paid to support his child's alleged two pack a day habit.

Get the youngster the help he needs and stop the opportunistic political posturing.

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