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TODAY’S TOPIC:Clove Cigarettes’ Fragrance Pervades Indonesia

March 15, 1985

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) _ If a country can boast a unique national fragrance, Indonesia’s would be the aromatic smell of burning cloves. The smell is accompanied by a soft snap and crackle as smokers puff on kreteks - cigarettes laced with cloves.

Sweet and spicy cigarette smoke greets visitors shortly they clear immigration and customs; the sometimes-cloying smell seems to permeate the entire country.

Kreteks take their name from the faint crackling sound made when volatile clove oil is released from the spice within while the cigarette burns.

They are uniquely Indonesian, a booming domestic industry with glowing export prospects, at least until U.S. authorities recently raised questions about possible health hazards.

Dr. Frederick Schechter, a surgeon at the University of California at Irvine, said he compiled four cases in which teen-agers who smoked kreteks subsequently came down with severe pneumonia-like illnesses. Two of the victims died.

Dr. Sue Binder, a medical epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, said people can develop allergies to eugenol, the active ingredient in cloves. Eugenol inhibits the synthesis of certain substances in the human body called prostaglandins which affect blood pressure and the action of some hormones and muscles, she said.

One clove cigarette maker is being sued by a Huntington Beach, Calif., couple who contend that their 17-year-old son suffered breathing difficulties that led to his death after smoking several of the firm’s Djarum brand kreteks on March 2, 1984.

A spokesman for Djarum declined comment pending the receipt of additional information from California.

The United States is not contemplating any ban on the import of kreteks, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman. More than 100 million were exported to the United States last year, compared to 16 million in 1980 when the Census Bureau added a special category for them in its statistics.

No official Indonesian source could indicate whether, based on decades of use here, clove cigarettes offered a distinct health danger.

Health minister Suwardjono Surjaningrat regularly urges the public to give up smoking but makes no distinction between kreteks and all-tobacco cigarettes which are known to Indonesians as ″whites.″ Exported kreteks carry a ″smoking is hazardous to health″ warning that does not appear on packs sold within Indonesia.

In strictly economic terms, kreteks seem to be an almost ideal industry in a heavily populated developing country. Tobacco and clove farmers prosper, tens of thousands of unskilled jobs are created and the exports earn foreign exchange.

Tobacco taxes earned the state $5.7 million last year compared to $5.4 million in 1983, according to Finance Ministry figures.

The Jakarta Post recently estimated that more than 7 million of Indonesia’s 166 million people depend directly or indirectly on the cultivation of tobacco or cloves and the manufacture and distribution of cigarettes.

The clove cigarettes industry is deliberately kept labor intensive. The kreteks exported to the United States are machine made and usually filter tipped. The plainer domestic offerings are hand rolled without filters.

Finance minister Radius Prawiro has decreed that two out of every three kreteks must be made by hand to absorb unskilled labor.

More than 130,000 workers toil in 259 kretek factories, according to the Indonesian cigarette producers association.

Gudang Garam, Djarum and Bentoel, the industry’s big three, produced 84 percent of the 66 billion kreteks turned out last year. Gudang Garam (it means ″salt warehouse″) employs more than 43,000 people.

The industry is centered in central Java where some pipesmokers mixed cloves with their tobacco around the turn of the century. Local lore credits a man in Kudus named Nitisemito with launching the modern kretek in the 1920s when clove cigarettes were wrapped either in corn leaves or paper.

The exact mix varies according to brand, but kreteks often contain 60 percent tobacco and 40 pecent ground clove flowers. The producer association said 2.7 pounds of tobacco and 1.8 pounds of cloves yields 1,000 cigarettes.

Almost all of the half dozen different tobacco types used are grown in Java, Sumatra and Ambon. About a tenth of the cloves are imported, mostly from the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar and Madagascar.

Until the mid-1960s, kreteks were considered a low-brow habit, inferior to ″whites″ because the tobacco was adulterated by cheap cloves. Reverse snobbery, resulting from astute marketing and the high price of cloves, have moved kreteks up the consumer prestige scale.

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