Most adult smokers initiate tobacco use during adolescence, which then continues into adulthood. According to a 2020 report by WHO, nearly nine out of 10 smokers start smoking before 18 years of age, and 98 percent start smoking by the age of 26. About three out of four adolescent smokers become long-term adult smokers. It is little wonder the tobacco industry, which invests more than $9 billion in advertising annually, increasingly targets youth in the hope that they develop lifelong nicotine addictions, replacing the millions of smokers who die annually because of tobacco use.
E-cigarettes are surging in popularity among youth partly because of the availability and variety of flavors. E-cigarette liquids come in thousands of flavors.4 “The tobacco industry targets youths with flavored products,” says Lisa Lu, head at International Youth Tobacco Control (IYTC), part of a global youth movement focusing on “Intergenerational Responsibility of the Tobacco Industry”5, which seeks to hold the tobacco industry accountable for harming people and the planet. “Flavors such as mango, strawberry and chocolate are the types of sweet flavors that appeal to youth,” says Lu. “The tobacco companies argue that flavored vapes help with cessation of tobacco use, but the truth is that more than 80 percent of youth who’ve used tobacco products started with flavored products.”
WHO also emphasizes the tobacco industry’s decades-long marketing tactic of creating the perception that smoking or vaping is cool by associating it with youthful activities like going to music concerts or clubbing.
“That tactic presents a picture to youth who browse social media that they should vape if they, too, want to appear fun and sociable,” Lu says. “In addition to the aggressive marketing of vape products, the tobacco industry continues to advertise cigarette products to youth, especially in developing countries like Peru, Indonesia and the Philippines, for example, by placing billboards near schools.”
Research shows that part of the problem is the tobacco industry’s misrepresentation6 of its products as safe and “socially responsible,”7 something that has distracted policy makers from the truth. Even parents are distracted.
The public could be better served through information about the tobacco industry’s deceptions and the potential risks, and the long-term effects of tobacco use in any form. Research shows that nicotine affects parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory, and in the adolescent brain, the effects can become permanent.8 Nicotine can also impair decision-making ability in the long term and worsen anxiety, irritability, impulsivity, depression and other mental health disorders. Youth who smoke are at increased risk of developing psychological problems such as major depressive disorder, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, and of more pronounced attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In response, WHO has launched a TikTok challenge, #TobaccoExposed, as it continues to call on all sectors to help stop tobacco and related industries from targeting children and young people. The campaign encourages schools to refuse any form of tobacco company sponsorship and prohibits representatives of e-cigarette and tobacco companies from speaking to students. It calls for celebrities and influencers to reject all offers of tobacco sponsorship and for governments to ban all forms of tobacco advertising and promotion.
According to the WHO FCTC, the most rational way to make the tobacco industry pay for the harms it has caused is to increase tobacco taxes and apply surcharges. These revenues can then be allocated to a wide range of areas where the industry has caused harm, including covering social and health expenses as well as environmental pollution. Additionally, WHO recommends increasing taxes as the single most effective means of reducing tobacco use.
Culled from New York Times