A heartbreaking story. Indonesia is one of the heaviest-smoking countries in the world. Seventy percent of the men smoke in that nation, and about 40 percent of boys aged 13-15.
But, these photos are unreal. Children as young as 8, 7 … even 5 YEARS OLD smoking, often times right in front of their parents. Diseases most smokers would be facing in their 50s, these kids can be looking forward to in their 30s and 40s.
Mother Jones posted a short article on this and a number of photos taken by Michelle Siu. It was a terribly short article, so, I decided to dig a bit deeper on Siu’s website. Her photo essay is called “Marlboro Boys.” Indonesia fits the mold perfectly of a developing nation and how Big Tobacco is exploiting weak governments and lax laws in these sorts of countries to push their products onto new markets (which often times translates into … kids). From Wiu’s blog:
Indonesia’s relationship with tobacco is complex. Cheap cigarettes, ubiquitous advertising, a powerful lobby with tight political connections and lack of law enforcement fuels a national addiction.
Indonesia holds one of the world’s highest rates of male smokes and it often begins at a young age. Boys are growing up in an environment where demand for tobacco is strong and foreign tobacco giants such as Marlboro maker Philip Morris are establishing themselves as smoking rates declines in other countries.
Young smokers begin the cycle of addiction but at a health cost for generations to come. 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.
I seriously doubt Philip Morris International or any other tobacco company gives a crap about these photos. There’s profits to be made. Tobacco is dying off in the West … pun intended … and there’s new markets to exploit. Indonesia is one of the most populous countries in the world with 250 million people … which the industry sees with lax public health education and laws as nothing more than 250 million potential smokers. Considering that 70 percent of its adult men are smokers, that means that more than 60 million men smoke in Indonesia … compare that to 45 million people total in the U.S. total. See, why Philip Morris and other tobacco companies are drooling over developing nations?
What the cultural conduit is that would get kids started smoking at 5, 6, 8 years old in Indonesia is beyond me. In talking to smokers in the U.S., the youngest ages I’ve heard for people starting smoking is perhaps 10 or 11 at the extreme. That vast majority of smokers start at more around 14 or 15. Something very, very wrong is happening in Indonesia. Wrong and heartbreaking.