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This is what happened to the chain-smoking 2-year-old Aldi Rizal. Remembered him?


In 2010, a story that came out of Indonesia caught the attention of the rest of the world. At only 2 years old, Aldi Rizal went
viral after a video of him enjoying a ride-on toy while smoking cigarettes found its way onto the internet and then numerous news stations, causing outrage on an international scale. What is Rizal up to seven years later? This is what happened to the chain-smoking 2-year-old.

Seeing a toddler smoking a single cigarette is shocking enough, though the outside world let out a collective gasp of disbelief when it emerged just how many smokes Rizal was actually going through on a daily basis. It transpired that the tubby toddler was reportedly consuming a staggering 40 cigs, costing his parents around $5 a day in a part of the world where the average working class wage is only $90 a month.

He held his parents to ransom

The initial assumption was that this child was being supplied cigarettes by some older kids, though it soon came out that his parents were totally complicit in his dangerous habit, claiming that he held them to ransom over his beloved smokes. "He's totally addicted," his mother Diana revealed (via Metro). "If he doesn't get cigarettes, he gets angry and screams and batters his head against the wall. He tells me he feels dizzy and sick."

His father, Mohamed, on the other hand, apparently didn't see anything wrong with what was going on, claiming that his son was fit and healthy. "I don't see the problem," he said.

​He went into rehab

Embarrassed by the international spectacle that the story had become, the Indonesian government decided to stick the chain-smoking tot in a rehab center. According to Daily Mail, Rizal was taken from his remote village home in Sumatra and sent to a facility in the country's capital Jakarta, where he took part in two weeks of "play therapy sessions" that forced him to focus on being a normal child rather than his constant cravings.

In the care of child psychiatrist Dr. Seto Mulyadi (also known as Dr. Kak Seto), Rizal was able to successfully kick the habit, and despite his mother admitting that "there are many people still offering Aldi cigarettes," the child himself was determined to stay strong for his doctor. "I love Kak Seto," he told his mother. "He would be sad if I started smoking again and made myself ill." Unfortunately for the Rizal family, getting cigarettes out of Aldi's life was just the beginning of his troubles with addiction.

He got addicted to food 

Anyone who has ever given up smoking knows just how easy it is to start inadvertently gaining weight, as hormones shift and the appetite the cigarettes have long since suppressed comes back with a vengeance. In Rizal's case, his renewed appetite ended up putting him back in danger—he replaced one harmful addiction with another, turning to food to fill the gap that cigarettes had left in his life.

"When Aldi first quit smoking he would demand a lot of toys," his mother said in 2013. "He would bang his head on the wall if he couldn't get what he wanted. That's why I get him cigarettes in the first place—because of his temper and his crying. Now I don't give him cigarettes, but he eats a lot. With so many people living in the house it's hard to stop him from getting food." At the height of his new habit Rizal was drinking three full cans of condensed milk a day as part of a calorific diet.

When Rizal's weight began to reach levels bordering on obesity, his parents sought the help of local experts in the hope of reeling in his excessive eating, and those experts were happy to share their findings with Daily Mail. "Aldi is very overweight," nutritionist Fransisca Dewi explained in 2013. "His weight doesn't match his age. His ideal weight is 17kg to 19kg—he's 24kg already. I think it is difficult for them. The mother says Aldi is a spoiled kid. If Diana wants to forbid him eating, it will be hard."

Mrs. Rizal did find it hard and she continued to struggle with the situation, but in truth the damage may have already been done, as her son's severe weight could have been the result of his chain-smoking. "Nicotine can increase the endocrine hormone in the body," pediatrician Dr William Nawawi added. "This condition can cause resistance to insulin. The blood will not be able to break glucose from food. This will make Aldi become bigger and bigger."

It wasn't just Aldi that his parents had to worry about; it was the townspeople, as well. According to a 2011 update from ABC News, Aldi's mother revealed that people in town would often ply her son with cigarettes to get him smoking again. In fact, at one point, she said she found Aldi, then still four years old, with a cigarette in his hand that he did not want to get rid of.

Aldi became a local celebrity

After he went viral, the international attention that Rizal received made him a local celebrity in his village, as Mara Schiavocampo found out when she visited his isolated home on assignment for the Huffington Post. "Getting there wasn't easy: 36-hour trip from New York to Jakarta, 1-hour flight to Sumatra, and four hours in the car, driving through rubber tree plantations. We met up with Aldi in the market before heading to his home. He's a local celebrity—as he walked through the stalls we heard lots of people calling his name, 'Aldi, Aldi.' A crowd gathered around him when he stopped to eat. But Aldi's famous for all the wrong reasons."

Rizal's mother felt the same way about the origins of her son's notoriety, admitting in 2013 that him getting recognized sometimes hurts her pride. "I feel happy when people want to speak to him because they know him, but I feel annoyed when they refer to him as 'the smoking kid'. It makes me feel like they are accusing me of being a bad parent."

Mrs. Rizal's final put her foot down with his latest vice, too. She and her husband vowed to cut all the junk food out of Aldi's life and force him onto a strict diet of fruit and vegetables, regardless of how much he protested. Four hard years later, Rizal's weight is well under control and he is reportedly on his way to completing fourth grade after excelling in his studies. The bubbly 9-year-old now has lots of friends and is barely recognizable as that tubby kid puffing away on his ride-on toy without a care in the world, and his only addiction nowadays seems to be school.

Despite the roller-coaster ride his body has gone through in just nine short years, Rizal says today that he is feeling both happy and optimistic about his future. "It was hard for me to stop," he told CNN in August 2017. "If I am not smoking, my mouth taste is sour and my head feel dizzy."

He continued, "I am happy now. I feel more enthusiastic, and my body is feeling fresh."

While Rizal's case might have been a particularly shocking one given his very young age, the truth is that child smoking in Indonesia has reached epidemic levels, with the problem seemingly getting worse with every passing year. According to CNN, over 267,000 children in Indonesia are estimated to use tobacco products daily, while smokers between the ages of 15 and 19 rose to a shocking 23.1 percent in 2016, up from 18.1 percent in 2007.

That might be one reason Rizal has become determined to help other kids kick the habit. "I don't want to smoke anymore. I don't want to get sick," he told CNN in 2017. "Please don't smoke. Don't even try it. It's hard to quit."

But while the Ministry of Health is now taking major steps to combat the epidemic, Dr. Seto Mulyadi told CNN that Rizal's success story will continue to be a rare case unless the Indonesian government takes stricter action. "As long as cigarette ads are spread out massively on TV, radio, newspapers, outdoor signage, everywhere, the problem of child smokers will get worse and worse," he said.


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