The two-year-old Indonesian boy who shocked the world with his 40-a-day cigarette habit has replaced nicotine with a new addiction… junk food.
Ardi Rizal made international headlines as a toddler when he was spotted chain-smoking while riding a tricycle in his remote Sumatran village.
The worldwide outrage over the photographs led Indonesia’s government to organise a special rehabilitation treatment for Ardi and launch a nationwide campaign to tackle the problem of child smokers.
Now, two years on, a documentary team in the village filming Ardi’s recovery has found that although the five-year-old has successfully kicked his cigarette habit, he appears to have replaced it with an addiction to fatty snacks.
The discovery will no doubt frustrate Indonesian authorities who spent a great deal of money on a high-profile campaign to rid Ardi of his bad habits, only to see him replace one addiction with another that is arguably just as unhealthy.
Ardi received extensive counselling and therapy sessions to help him overcome his nicotine addiction. One expert, Dr Kak Seto, continues to visit Ardi’s family on a regular basis to ensure he stays off the cigarettes.
In fact, it is Dr Seto that remains Ardi’s main inspiration. The boy’s 28-year-old mother, Diane Rizal, says that there are many people in the village who continue to offer Ardi cigarettes, but he now turns them down by saying “I love Kak Seto. He would be sad if I started smoking and made myself ill”.
Despite his young age, Ardi’s charisma has seen him successfully enter a career working on his parents’ market stall. Although he attracts lots of attention, his mother is disheartened to hear people still refer to him as “the smoking kid”.
Quoted by MailOnline, she says the name makes her “feel like they are accusing me of being a bad parent.”
Although he has recovered from his cigarette addiction, Ardi’s excessive food consumption is the latest unhealthy habit causing his parents concern.
His weight gain is such a worry that Mrs Rizal and her husband Mohamed chose to seek help from a nutritionist, who said their child is already 6kg overweight. She also said that the effects of his early-age smoking are more likely to see him gain excess fat because of the way nicotine effects hormone, insulin and glucose levels in the human body.
The reason from Ardi’s continued compulsions are unknown, but his parents blame the fact he is incredibly demanding. Mrs Rizal says she originally used cigarettes to appease Ardi, adding that she tried the same trick with food when he was showing signs of anger during his nicotine withdrawal.
She also says that, due to the sheer number of people coming in and out of the family home, it is very difficult to prevent Ardi from taking food for himself.
His favourite food is apparently condensed milk - consuming at least three cans a day - and his carbohydrate intake is also said to be extremely high.
With his poor nutrition proving such a concern, Mr and Mrs Rizal have put their son on a strict diet, taking advantage of the abundant fresh fish, fruit and vegetables available in the village. They have also demanded Ardi’s sibling refrain from giving him junk food no matter how much he demands.
Child smoking in Indonesia is a major concern, with up to 30% of the country’s 80 million children taking up the habit by age 10. 63% of Indonesia’s adult men smoke – the highest male smoking rate in the world - and in 2008 over 165 billion cigarettes were sold in the country.
Ardi’s story can be seen in full on Elephant Man: Body Bizarre, shown at 10pm this evening on the TLC UK channel.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies