PAHO urges young people to help expose and resist tobacco industry deception

WASHINGTON, DC, United States (CMC) — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is urging young people in the Americas, including the Caribbean, to recognise, expose, and resist the deceptive tactics used by the tobacco industry and its allies to recruit new, younger customers at the eventual cost of millions of lives lost.

“The tobacco industry needs young people to buy their products, which may result in nicotine addiction, so that they become long-term consumers,” said Jarbas Barbosa, PAHO’s assistant director, ahead of World No Tobacco Day, on May 31.

“This creates the opportunity to replace the eight million people worldwide who die of tobacco-related causes every year. It is a matter of profits over people – an indefensible choice,” Barbosa added.

PAHO said tobacco makers and their allies in the e-cigarette and related industries spend an estimated US$9 billion annually on aggressive marketing tactics, many of them specifically targeting children and youth.

It said youth are a significant market segment for the industry, since studies show that nine out of 10 smokers start before age 18. Globally more than 40 million young people aged 13 to 15 have already started to use tobacco.

PAHO said with this year’s World No Tobacco Day campaign, together with the World Health Organization (WHO), they are seeking to debunk myths and expose the marketing deception by the tobacco industry and its allies to recruit new customers, especially children and youth.

“Tobacco advertising, which includes product placement in films, TV, and streaming, tries to make smoking and vaping look modern, sophisticated, grown-up, and cool. In reality, tobacco use causes not only serious illnesses, like heart disease, cancer, and lung disease, but also bad breath, discoloured teeth, and wrinkled skin.

“Tobacco companies also try to recruit new users by sponsoring scholarships, youth camps, concerts, and sporting events. Furthermore, smokeless and water pipe tobacco are also sold in sweet and fruity flavours to appeal to children and young people,” PAHO said.
It said that even during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the tobacco and nicotine industry has continued to promote products that limit people’s ability to fight COVID-19 and recover from the disease. The industry has offered free, branded masks and home delivery during quarantine, and has lobbied for its products to be listed as “essential”.

PAHO said that this year’s World No Tobacco Day campaign calls on young people to join together to become a “tobacco-free generation”.

To help empower them, the WHO has launched a new kit for school students aged 13-17 to alert them to the tobacco industry tactics used to hook them to addictive products. The toolkit includes classroom activities, such as role playing, to make students aware of how the tobacco industry tries to manipulate them into using its products. It also includes an educational video, myth-buster quiz, and homework assignments.

To support young people, PAHO and the WHO are calling on governments and civil society leaders to do their part to counter the influence exerted by the tobacco industry and related industries. Legislatures are being encouraged to pass laws banning all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) provides comprehensive guidance on steps that governments can take to reduce tobacco consumption and save lives.

“We urge everyone to become educated, raise awareness, and help create a tobacco-free generation,” said Barbosa, adding, “We each have a critical role to play.”

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