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‘Marlboro Boys’: Startling Portraits of Young Children Addicted to Cigarettes

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Dihan Muhamad, who used to smoke up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, smokes while his mother breast feeds his younger brother on February 10, 2014.

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Dihan Muhamad, who has smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, poses for a photo as he has his first cigarette at 7AM at his home before he attends his first grade class on February 10, 2014.

As smoking regulations in North America get stricter, the number of smokers, especially among younger generations, are in decline. If Mad Men taught us anything, it’s that smoking is not nearly as common as it used to be. In some circles, it can even be seen as taboo. Considering these changing habits of North Americans, it’s incredibly startling to see the recent series by Toronto based photographer Michelle Siu. For Marlboro Boys, she travelled to Indonesia to document the shocking reality of young smokers.

It’s easy to begin smoking when it’s presence is everywhere. As the fifth largest tobacco market in the world, Indonesians are bombarded with ever-present advertising targeting youth and easy access to cheap cigarettes (about one dollar a pack). The industry is closely tied to the country’s economy and that industry relies on consumption. What’s most alarming, is that the habit is forming early. According to a recent study, the number of children smokers aged 10 to 14 has doubled over the past 20 years, and has tripled for those ages five to nine.

Here, we see children as young as four smoking up to two packs a day. As more than 60% of males smoke in Indonesia, it can still be shocking for a parent to see their young child with a cigarette in hand. There’s little they can do. They can take the cigarettes away, but there is nothing stopping the child from buying more. There is a law that restricts selling cigarettes to children, but it is rarely enforced.

Tobacco consumption in Indonesia is a complex problem that is deeply embedded in culture, economy and politics. Tobacco companies like Philip Morris hold a tight grip over the government, who in turn, make a lot of money off the sale of cigarettes. It’s a complicated issue, and one that likely won’t be resolved until the government takes steps to regulate the industry.

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Ilham Hadi, who has smoked up to two packs a day and began when he was four years old, poses for a photo wearing his third grade uniform while smoking in his bedroom on February 14, 2014.

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Dihan Muhamad, who used to smoke up to two packs of cigarettes a day before cutting down, poses for a photo as he smokes in his home on February 10, 2014.

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Cecep poses for a photo as he smokes on February 10, 2014. He is currently sleeping at a mosque and singing in buses to make money.

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Illham Muhamad, who has smoked since he was five years old, poses for a photo as he slowly inhales his first cigarette of the day at his grandmother’s home on February 10, 2014. He does not attend school and if his grandmother refuses to give him money to buy cigarettes he will go through withdrawal and cry and throw fits.

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Ompong, which means “toothless” in the local language of Bahasa, poses for a photograph as he has a cigarette on February 14, 2014.

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Andika Prasetyo, who smokes about a pack a day, has a smoke outside an internet cafe on February 16, 2015.

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Five-year-old Ardian Azka Mubarok smokes at his home in Garut, Indonesia on March 27, 2015.

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Ilham Hadi, who has smoked up to two packs a day and began when he was four years old, poses for a photo wearing his third grade uniform while smoking in his bedroom as he younger brother looks on February 14, 2014.

All images © Michelle Siu

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