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World No Tobacco Day: Global youth calls for tobacco industry to stop targeting them with harmful products

Representative image (Photo: ANI)

On this World No Tobacco Day, the youth across the world called for the tobacco industry to stop targeting them with products that are harmful to their health.

The young people also called on governments to adopt policies to protect them from these manipulative practices, including relentless marketing of harmful products.

The Member States of the World Health Organization designated May 31 as World No Tobacco Day in 1987, to draw attention to the global tobacco epidemic, and the preventable death and disease it causes.

“This year, World No Tobacco Day calls on us all to protect children from the interference of the tobacco industry. Young people across the world are calling for the tobacco industry to stop targeting them with products that are harmful to their health,” WHO Regional Director for Southeast Asia, Saima Wazed said.

“They are calling on governments to adopt policies to protect them from the manipulative practices of tobacco and related industries. This includes the relentless marketing of their dangerous products through social media and streaming platforms,” Wazed added.

She further emphasised that every year, this day reminds us of the dangers of tobacco and informs us about what the WHO Organization is doing to fight this epidemic.

“It informs people around the world about what they can do to claim their right to health, and how to protect future generations. It also shines a light on the business practices of tobacco companies,” she said.

WHO regional director further highlighted that the tobacco industry’s targeting of youth is rampant across the Member States.

As a result, 11 million adolescents are using various tobacco products, coupled with the approximate 411 million adult tobacco users, “Our region, unfortunately, has the highest number of adolescent and adult users globally,” she added.

This industry lures youth by aggressively introducing new nicotine and tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products.

Moreover, these are becoming increasingly popular with the youth in this region.

Wazed expressed concern and said, “It is worrying that children and adolescents are regularly exposed to the digital marketing of tobacco products. This is despite having policies and regulations in place to prevent this.”

She further stressed that the situation is expected to get worse, as youngsters spend more time on social media and other similar platforms.

“This multibillion-dollar industry recruits ‘new’ users to reward their investors even more profits. To achieve this, it preys on children and adolescents through marketing tactics, targeting them with new products,” she said.

The tobacco industry moves with speed to launch new products, using every means to expand market share before regulations can catch up.

Moreover, they continue to oppose evidence-based measures, such as increases in excise taxes, and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships.

“They even threaten legal action against governments that try to protect the health of their citizens,” she said, adding that the response from governments and institutions is lagging.

It is imperative that the relevant provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are implemented in letter and spirit. Also, tools and support are urgently needed to facilitate monitoring and implementation of the WHO FCTC recommendations in ‘online’ settings.

Wazed emphasised that the goal for youth is clear, saying, “We want to prevent and reduce tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction, and exposure to new tobacco products. To do this, we need a multistakeholder approach to frame and implement legislation, policies, regulations and administrative measures. This approach needs to cast a wide net. We should engage with all relevant government departments, UN and intergovernmental organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia, and the community, including students, teachers and parents.”

Moreover, a generational tobacco ban, leading to a ‘Tobacco-Free Generation’, would be a huge step forward for our Region, she stressed.

For this to happen, the WHO FCTC must be recognized as a legally binding international instrument by all the Member States.

This ban will require effective enforcement of existing policies, including confronting tobacco industry interference and institutional corruption surrounding the illicit tobacco trade.

Meanwhile, the governments and tobacco control advocates in the region must proactively take an evidence-based stance that pre-empts biased arguments against progressive tobacco control measures.

The opportunity to pass a generational ban must be supported by political will, clear foresight, and pragmatic implementation. “Only then can we realize the goal of a ‘Tobacco-Free Generation’ across our Region in the very near future,” she said.