If you recall, a video of a 2-year-old Indonesian baby smoking 40 cigarettes a day, went viral in 2010. More than 29 million watched the YouTube clip in horror as Ardi Rizal puffed cigarette after cigarette like a nicotine addict. Although, the worldwide outrage forced the Indonesian government to launch a campaign to tackle the problem of child smokers, nothing has changed after 5 years. In fact, things are only getting worse.
Child smoking is cool, popular, and unstoppable in Indonesia. The 2014 Global Youth Tobacco Survey reported that a staggering 36% of boys and 4% of girls aged 13-15 were smokers. The number of children smoking in Indonesia is getting out of control – more than 30% of Indonesia’s 80 million children reportedly take to smoking before the age of 10 – yet it is perfectly legal for a child of any age to buy and smoke cigarettes.
The World Health Organization ranks Indonesia third in the world for total number of smokers. Around $16 billion worth of cigarettes were sold in Indonesia in 2015 – a 13%increase from 2014. According to the World Health Organization, 63% of Indonesia’s men smoke – the highest male smoking rate in the world – and about 3% women smoke in Indonesia.
More than 225,000 Indonesians die from smoking-related diseases every year, yet parents take pride in smoking; cigarette companies sponsor refugee camps and almost all of the country’s music concerts and sports events, and the government refuses to act. Global Post writes:
Indonesia is one of the few countries in the world that hasn’t signed the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This means cigarettes are still extremely cheap and cigarette advertising is not forbidden. The ads are on Television, in newspapers and magazines, and plastered on trees lining the roads. Indonesian cities are choked with giant billboards promising “pleasure, style and confidence.”
To bring to light the dark side of smoking in Indonesia, Canadian photographer Michelle Siu clicked the country’s child smokers for her photo series Marlboro Boys.
“They [young smokers] inhale and exhale like old men that have been smoking for years – some of them have been smoking two packs a day since they were little kids. The juxtaposition of young boys smoking like seasoned addicts is jarring, yet this project is intended to not only shock and inform viewers but to demonstrate the lack of enforcement of national health regulations and to question the country’s dated relationship with tobacco.”