Kretek (kre'tek) are cigarettes
made with a complex blend of tobacco, cloves and a flavoring 'sauce'.
The word "kretek" itself is an onomatopoetic term for the
crackling sound of burning cloves.
Haji Jamahri, a resident of Kudus, Java, created kreteks in the early
1880s as a means to deliver the medicinal eugenol of cloves to the lungs,
as it was thought to help asthma. It cured his chest pains and he started
to market his invention to the village, but he died before he could
mass market it. M. Nitisemito took his place and began to commercialize
the new cigarettes. Today, kretek manufacturers directly employ over
180,000 people in Indonesia and an additional 10 million indirectly.
Partly due to favorable taxation compared to "white" cigarettes,
kreteks are by far the most widely-smoked form of cigarettes in Indonesia,
where about 90% of smokers usually smoke kreteks. In Indonesia, there
are hundreds of kretek manufacturers, including small local makers and
major brands. Most of the widely-known international brands, including
Bentoel, Djarum, Gudang Garam, Jakarta, Sampoerna, Dji Sam Soe, and
Wismilak, originate from Indonesia. Nat Sherman of the United States
produces cigarettes branded as "A Touch of Clove" but are
arguably not kreteks since they contain clove flavoring in the filter
rather than actual clove spice mixed with the tobacco.
The origin of kretek cigarettes traces to the late
19th century. The creator of kretek was one Haji Jamahri, a native of
the town of Kudus in Indonesia’s Central Java region. Suffering
from chest pains, Haji Jamahri attempted to reduce the pain by rubbing
clove oil on his chest. Jamahri sought a means of achieving a deeper
relief and smoked his hand-rolled cigarettes after adding dried clove
buds. According to the story, his asthma and chest pains vanished immediately.
Word of Jamahri’s amazing discovery spread rapidly among his neighbors
and the clove cigarettes soon became available in pharmacies under the
name of rokok cengkeh – clove cigarettes. Although first discovered
as a medicinal product, kreteks also became popular for the feeling
of delight it offers.
In those years, the locals used to hand-roll kreteks to sell on order
without any specific brand or packing. A resident of Kudus called Nitisemito
had the brilliant idea of starting serial production and selling kreteks
under a proprietary brand name. Unlike other manufacturers, Nitisemito
who first created the Bal Tiga brand in 1906 enjoyed great success by
implementing unprecedented marketing techniques such as using embossed
packs or offering free-of-charge promotional materials.
Furthermore, he also developed a production system which was called
as the abon system and which offered great opportunities for other entrepreneurs
without enough capital. In this system, a person called as “abon”
assumes the job of delivering finished products to the company which
pays the price of piecework done whereas the company is liable to supply
the necessary production materials to the “abons”. This
system is important in terms of allowing for the employment of people
who must remain home to care for the children and the elderly.
However, as industry improved, manufacturers who wanted to make sure
of the high product quality and standards opted to have their workers
working under the roof of their own factories. Nowadays, only several
kretek manufacturers make use of the abon system.
During the period from 1960 until 1970, kreteks became a national symbol
against “white cigarettes”. In mid 1980’s, the amount
of machine-produced cigarettes exceeded the amount of hand-rolled ones.
As one of the largest income sources of Indonesia, the kretek industry
comprises 500 large and small manufacturers as well as 10 million employees.
The quality and variety of tobacco play an important role in kretek
production. One kretek brand can contain more than 30 types of tobacco.
Minced dried clove buds weighing about 1/3 of the tobacco blend are
added. This new blend is then flavored with a “sauce”. Kept
strictly confidential by many kretek manufacturers, the recipes for
these special sauces contain various fruit and spice essences as well
as numerous natural aromas. The last process which machine-made or hand-rolled
kreteks go through is the spraying of saccharine all over the cigarette.
Djarum Black cigarettes sold in Europe and South American countries
have 10–12mg tar and 1mg nicotine, as indicated on the pack. This
level of tar and nicotine is comparable to the majority of other regular
or "full-flavor" cigarettes available. However, Djarum Black
cigarettes produced for consumption in Indonesia contain a significantly
higher quantity of Tar and Nicotine, 25mg and 1.6mg respectively. In
Canada, Djarum Black cigarettes are listed as containing 42.2–76mg
of tar and 1.88–3.39mg of nicotine, a significant amount more
than most other cigarettes.
The venous plasma nicotine and carbon monoxide levels from 10 smokers
were tested after smoking kreteks and were found to be similar to non-clove
brands of cigarettes, such as Marlboro.
Rats were given equal inhalation doses of conventional tobacco cigarettes
and kreteks over a short period. Those that had inhaled kreteks did
not appear to show worse health effects compared to those that had inhaled
conventional cigarettes. The study was repeated with a 14-day exposure
and kreteks again did not produce worse health effects than conventional
The eugenol in clove smoke causes a numbing of the throat which can
diminish the gag reflex in users, leading researchers to recommend caution
for individuals with respiratory infections. There have also been a
few cases of aspiration pneumonitis in individuals with normal respiratory
tracts possibly because of the diminished gag reflex. Researchers recommend
that people who have an allergy to cloves should avoid kreteks.
In the United States, kreteks have been the subject of legal restrictions
and political debate, including a proposed 2004 US Senate bill that
would have prohibited cigarettes from having a "characterising
flavor" of certain ingredients other than tobacco and menthol.
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found kreteks account
for a relatively small percentage of underage smoking, and their use
was declining among high school students. Critics of the bill argued
that support of the bill by the large U.S. tobacco maker Philip Morris,
which makes only conventional and menthol cigarettes, indicated that
the bill was an attempt to protect the company from competition.[citation
Some U.S. states, including Utah, New Mexico, and Maryland, have passed
laws that prohibit the sale of kreteks. On 14 March 2005, Philip Morris
International announced the purchase of Indonesian tobacco company PT
HM Sampoerna after acquiring a 40% stake in Sampoerna from a number
of Sampoerna’s principal shareholders.