House Of Sampoerna & Indonesia’s Smoking Addiction

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The House of Sampoerna is considered to be the top tourist attraction in Surabaya according to TripAdvisor. It’s a cigarette museum and tells the rags-to-riches story of Liem Seeng Tee who arrived in Java from China as a boy in the early 20th century and, through hard work and good luck, ended up running one of Indonesia’s leading tobacco companies, now part of the Philip Morris group.

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The museum displays old photos of cigarette production at the factory.

Sampoerna specialises in kretek cigarettes, a uniquely Indonesian product made by adding cloves to tobacco. Kretek, which by the way is an onomatopoetic term for the crackling sound of burning cloves, were originally marketed as a medicinal product as they were thought to be a cure for asthma, would you believe. Sadly that is not the case and we now know that kretek are as unhealthy as any other cigarette, even if they smell slightly better.

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House of Sampoerna is still a working cigarette factory and visitors can observe the hand-rolling process with more than 400 women workers hand-rolling cigarettes at the rate of over 325 per hour. It was a day-off when I visited so all the women were at home attending to their coughing husbands and sons.

One day perhaps cigarettes will only be found in museums and future generations will wonder why cigarettes, which have killed more people than all the wars in the whole of human history put together, were allowed to be sold legally for so long.

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Some of the factory’s products.

That day is not likely to come soon for Indonesia because the whole country seems hopelessly hooked to smoking. It is estimated that two-thirds of adult males in Indonesia smoke. The addiction is getting worse as many boys now start their habit as young as age 7. The price for a packet of 20 is around US$1 so it’s cheaper to smoke than it is to eat.

Smoking has been estimated to kill 425,000 Indonesians annually. At least smoking is not popular among women – only 5% of Indonesian women smoke – so there must be a lot of widows.

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A model ship made from cloves. The museum’s gift shop sells some smart souvenir items. A heritage bus tour of Surabaya, called the Surabaya Heritage Track, is an added attraction.

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The factory compound includes a batik exhibition and a restaurant for visitors.

 

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