Cigarettes Lesson

Cigarette factories are not places where most people got to visit often. I am not a smoker myself but I find cigarettes to be fascinating stuffs. Though admittedly there was a stage where one does try to experiment and during those times, one can discover a great many things. For instance, Japanese cigarettes are so tasteless that I don't even see the point of them having cigarettes at all. Whereas the Indonesians ones are so full of taste including having spices and all sorts of things in them that it is very difficult to keep in. Most others come in between.

During my Surabaya trip, we were taken to see the cigarettes factory at Soemporna. If you are a smoker, Soemporna produces about 8 different types of cigarettes. The most familiar is the A symbol and the Dji Sam Soe 234 logos. Just in case you are interested, the 8 are: Sampoerna A King (Filtered Kretek); Sampoerna A Mild (Filtered Kretek); Sampoerna A Mild Menthol (Filtered Kretek); Sampoerna Exclusive (Filtered); Sampoerna A Hijau (Unfiltered Kretek); Sampoerna Hijau AGA (Unfiltered Kretek); Dji Sam Soe 234 (Filtered Kretek); and Dji Sam Soe 234 (Unfiltered Kretek).

Sampoerna was founded in 1913 by a Chinese immigrant called Liem Seeng Tee and started its success story with the unfiltered Cigarette version of Dji Sam Soe, until today it is considered as one of the finest tobacco and clove combinations in the market. Cigarettes with tobacco and cloves are called Kreteks in Indonesia. The visit to the museum and factory of the House of Soemporna will be made up of the history of Liem and his humble beginnings. He was brave enough in those days to put up the 'Ong' or 'King' chinese character symbol on his Dji Sam Soe product and his favourite number of '9' made up by the 2, 3, 4 on the cover.

At the back of the museum is the factory. The Dji Sam Soe brand is still handmade apparently, rolled by Indonesian factory workers. It was a flurry of activities there. For every hour, each girl can roll 400 cigarettes, trimmed 1,200 cigarerettes and packaged 200 packets. We tried our hands doing it but it will be years before we reached the speed of those girls. The other brands are all machine made. But here is the thing. The Liem family despite the museum does not own the brand or the factory anymore. The whole thing - factory, brand, museum etc is owned by Phillip Morris. The family does not even own a single share of the company anymore.

What amazes me is the fact that an international company owned what is one of the most venerable brand in Indonesia and you would have great difficulty in knowing who the owner is. Even at PM website, it does not even list out the Sampoerna or Dji Sam Soe as one of their products. PM by the way makes 761 billion cigarettes in 2004, if distributed to everyone on earth, each of us would get 126 cigarettes (about 10 packs each). I am just amazed at how much the world's consumption of cigarettes is and just how much they keep their business activities quiet. Maybe there is a lesson somewhere here.


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