While smoking rates are declining in many western countries, the opposite is happening in the Republic of Indonesia, where over 60% of the male population regularly smokes and uses tobacco. When Canadian photographer Michelle Siu heard about this alarming statistic, she felt it was something she needed to document.
Smoking has become ingrained in Indonesian culture where some children are having their first cigarette by the age of four, Siu tells TIME. “Tobacco consumption in Indonesia is a complex issue as it is intertwined in the country culturally, politically and economically. You can’t take 10 steps before seeing a tobacco advertisement or someone smoking.”
Indonesia’s economy is dependent upon the tobacco industry, which has proven to be extremely profitable. Many Indonesians make their livelihood through tobacco farming, and are surrounded by cigarettes from an early age. Smoking regulations in Indonesia are few and far between, and it is not uncommon to see children smoking cigarettes on public buses on their way to and from school. “It’s hard for the government to really want to regulate the industry,” says Siu. “It’s something that they make a lot of money off of.”
As a daughter of immigrant parents, Siu says she is drawn to stories that shed light on “threatened cultures and vulnerable people.”
In Marlboro’s Boys, Siu examines the loss of innocence that these young smokers exhibit. “They 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.”
Michelle Siu is a documentary photographer based in Toronto.
Adam Glanzman is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @glanzpiece