House of Sampoerna: Indonesia’s kretek puffs

The cigarette making workforce comprises mainly of women.

The House of Sampoerna is considered to be the top tourist attraction in Surabaya. It’s a cigarette museum that tells the rags-to-riches story of Liem Seeng Tee, who arrived in Java from China as a boy in the early 20th century.

Through hard work and good luck, he ended up running one of Indonesia’s leading tobacco companies, now part of the Philip Morris group. Sampoerna specialises in kretek cigarettes, a uniquely Indonesian product made by adding cloves to tobacco.

An old photograph shows women packing kretek cigarettes by hand.

Kretek, which 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.

Sadly, that is not the case and we know now that kretek are as unhealthy as any other cigarette, even if they do smell slightly better.

Hopefully in the future cigarettes will only be found in museums and future generations will wonder why cigarettes were allowed to be sold legally. They have killed more people than all the wars in history put together, and for so long too.

Some of Sampoerna’s products on display.

The 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 about 325 kretek per hour.

It is estimated that two-thirds of adult males in Indonesia smoke. It is alleged that boys as young as seven years old are picking up the habit.

The price for a packet of 20 cigarettes is cheaper than the price of an average meal. Smoking is not popular among women as only 5% of Indonesian women smoke.

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