You can’t walk more than a few feet in the Republic of Indonesia without seeing a tobacco advertisement. The images are so prevalent and deeply ingrained within the culture that children as young as four are already addicted to smoking – sometimes going through multiple packs of cigarettes a day. They’re cheap, the lobbying is relentless, and virtually no information is made available about the dangers of addiction or smoking-related health risks (interestingly, some clinics in Indonesia claim that tobacco smoke is something of a panacea, able to cure everything from autism to certain kinds of cancer).
Photographer Michelle Siu travelled to the country to document and experience this unfortunate trend firsthand. In a photo set called “Marlboro Boys”, we are made privy to an unsettling problem filtered through a caring—yet honest—lens; one that shines a light on the sadness of the issue and hopes to reverse it. Siu says, “Young smokers begin the cycle that fuels the addiction but at a health cost for generations to come. It is my hope that this project may not only shock and inform viewers but that it may also help pose important questions about Indonesia’s often dated relationship with tobacco.”
It’s difficult to deny how much of Indonesia’s economic livelihood depends on this industry. Tobacco has brought a considerable amount of quick financial success to local tobacco farmers. Even as the West has seen a rapid decline of smokers, Indonesia carries on in its own consistent tobacco demand: 67% of Indonesian males smoke on a regular basis –and sadly, this would include the smallest ones that haven’t even made it to school yet. In 2010, the University of Indonesia School of Economics’ Demographics Institute found that 426,000 of Indonesian children between the ages of 10-14 are smokers.