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Posted: Thursday 30 May, 2024 at 5:11 PM

Title: Did You Know The Tobacco Industry Has A Hold On Our Youth?

By: Dorial Quintyne, Commentary

    The World Health Organization (WHO) and its global partners recognize May 31 annually as World No Tobacco Day. The significance of this special day is to encourage people who smoke to quit and those who don’t to never start. World No Tobacco Day is often celebrated by highlighting the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocating for the effective monitoring of the sale, distribution, consumption and promotion of tobacco products. Every year tobacco kills more than 8 million people, 7 million of which are due to tobacco use while approximately 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.


    This year's theme for World No Tobacco Day, "Protecting children from tobacco industry interference", cuts to the core of a disturbing truth - The tobacco industry needs replacement users and youth are a primary target. Many of us use social media and are constantly bombarded with advertisements. Disturbingly, among these ads, the tobacco industry has found a way to infiltrate the screens of youth with flashy, colourful promotions for their products. These ads are meticulously designed to appeal to youthful sensibilities, making smoking and vaping seem attractive and harmless.


    The Rising Threat of New and Emerging Tobacco Products


    Traditional cigarettes are no longer the only threat. The rise of electronic cigarettes, oral nicotine products etc., have introduced a new dimension to the problem. These products are often marketed as safer alternatives or cessation tools, but they pose significant risks, especially to young, developing brains. The appeal of e-cigarettes to adolescents is particularly troubling. A 2022 study of 47 countries found that 8.6% of youth reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. In the Caribbean a handful of countries are regulating e-cigarettes including Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados, who have banned e-cigarette use in public places. Antigua and Barbuda, along with Suriname, have taken an even stronger stance by prohibiting the import, distribution, and sale of e-cigarettes altogether. Despite these measures, the Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) data showed current use of e-cigarettes among 13-15-year-old students ranging from 4.0% in Antigua and Barbuda to 17.2% in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago has the second-highest rate of youth e-cigarette use in all of the Americas, following the United States. Traditional cigarette smoking among youth still continues to be a major concern because they are regarded as the smokers of tomorrow as three to four out of every ten ever-smokers, in the Caribbean region, initiated smoking before the age of 10 years.


    Tobacco use, in any form, is linked to numerous health risks, including an increased likelihood of developing cancer, heart disease, and respiratory conditions. Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) or e-cigarettes containing nicotine are particularly harmful as they can lead to nicotine addiction, which adversely affects brain development in adolescents, potentially impairing memory, concentration, and learning abilities. Even e-cigarettes without nicotine or electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) can be dangerous due to the inhalation of harmful chemicals and flavourings that can cause respiratory issues and other health problems. Nicotine pouches, though marketed as a safer alternative, still deliver highly addictive nicotine and can lead to dependency, oral health issues, and an increased risk of transitioning to other tobacco products. The link between vaping and mental health issues is becoming increasingly evident. A U.S study published in 2019, examined the association between e-cigarette use and depression and found that current e-cigarette users had more than twice the odds of reporting a history of clinical depression compared to those who had never used e-cigarettes. Specifically, current e-cigarette users were 2.10 times more likely to report depression, with the odds increasing with the frequency of use.


    The Tobacco Industry's Pervasive Marketing Strategies


    As a youth tobacco control advocate, I am especially concerned with the tobacco industry’s persistent marketing in the Caribbean. With social media being widely used, especially among young people, tobacco companies are leveraging platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X formerly known as Twitter, and TikTok to promote their addictive products. These companies, having honed their skills in targeting youth, are now implementing online marketing strategies that are both sophisticated and pervasive. These strategies include lifestyle campaigns that link tobacco and nicotine with freedom, rebellion, and youthfulness, creating an appealing image that resonates strongly with adolescents. Additionally, tobacco companies are compensating social media influencers to endorse their brands subtly, seamlessly integrating their products into the daily lives of young followers. A report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, titled #SponsoredByBigTobacco, reveals that promotional content for Velo, IQOS and Vuse (products by British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris) has accumulated over 3.4 billion views on social media and reached more than 150 million young people under the age of 25.


    The tobacco industry is also using carnivals and festivals as a marketing opportunity. For example, British American Tobacco heavily promoted their vaping device, Vuse, during the Jamaican Carnival. They used social media to advertise a promotion where purchasing Vuse products gave participants a chance to win a t-shirt package to Play Mas. They even had their own carnival truck and tents where Vuse products were prominently displayed. This type of marketing not only targets young adults but also attracts young children and teenagers, embedding the presence of tobacco products in the festive and culturally significant atmosphere of carnival. This concerted effort has allowed Big Tobacco to reach a massive young audience, making addictive products seem normal and even desirable through extensive in-person and social media exposure.


    From conversations with my peers, it’s clear why vapes are so enticing: the wide range of flavours, their trendy image, affordability, and the misleading perception that they are harmless.Companies like Philip Morris and the West Indian Tobacco Company Limited have capitalised on these perceptions by advancing their own “smoke-free vision” - marketing their vaping devices as “risk-reduced alternatives” and a way for adult smokers to quit tobacco. However, the evidence shows a different story. Studies have shown that youth often misunderstand these claims, and are led to believe that these products are without harm, leading to an increased likelihood of nicotine and tobacco-use initiation.


    The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Regulations The WHO’s newly published report, Hooking the Next Generation: how the tobacco industry captures young customers, has revealed the strategies employed by the tobacco and nicotine industry to entice youth. Recent statistics show that 85% of 15–30-year-olds have been exposed to e-cigarette advertising, with higher exposure linked to increased use. In light of this data, Caribbean youth are joining the call to action on World No Tobacco Day 2024, urging our governments to protect us from the manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry. This call to action aims to raise awareness and mobilise efforts to prevent the targeting and exploitation of young people by these harmful products and deceptive strategies. It is crucial to reveal how the industry markets new products as "reduced risk" alternatives, misleading young consumers. Moreover, comprehensive regulations are essential to protect youth from new tobacco and nicotine products. Extending smoke-free laws to include e-cigarettes and other novel products, as well as banning flavours that appeal to young users, are vital steps in preventing the renormalization of smoking behaviours. In collaboration with the HCC, I developed the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Portal, which serves as a platform to share information, strategies, and resources to combat tobacco use and influence policy changes. For WNTD 2023, the HCC launched a report developed in collaboration with PAHO:, Vaping Among Adolescents and Youth in the Caribbean Situation, Policy Responses and Recommended Actions, which provides guidance to Caribbean governments.


    Governments play a crucial role in this fight and should take decisive actions to safeguard youth. Based on this report’s recommendations, I urge our governments to implement and enforce the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC):


    •  Implement and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS), including guidelines for digital and cross-border marketing, to prevent tobacco companies from exploiting new media platforms to target youth.


    •  Raise prices and taxes on tobacco and nicotine products to make them less affordable and less accessible to young people.


    •  Strictly enforce bans on the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to children.


    •  Address tobacco industry interference and conflict of interest. The tobacco industry's persistent interference in policy-making demands stringent measures. Rejecting any partnerships or agreements with the industry is paramount, given their history of undermining tobacco control efforts. Moreover, enhancing transparency in the industry's lobbying and marketing practices is imperative to safeguard policy-making processes from undue influence. Good governance policies must be enacted to ensure transparency and address conflict of interest and industry interference, aligning with the principles outlined in the 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on NCDs and Mental Health and Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.


    •  Update legislation to include ENDS and ENNDS to address the evolving landscape of tobacco products and ensure comprehensive protection for youth.


    As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day 2024, we must remember that safeguarding our youth from the tobacco industry’s predatory practices is non-negotiable. The rise of new and alluring tobacco products, coupled with the relentless barrage of social media marketing, underscores the urgency of our response. Our governments must heed the call to action, enacting comprehensive regulations and enforcing existing frameworks like the WHO FCTC with unwavering determination. By prioritising transparency, accountability, and the well-being of our youth, we can dismantle the tobacco industry's web of deceit and protect future generations from the grip of addiction and disease.


    Let this day serve as a catalyst for change, uniting us in our resolve to build a nicotine and tobacco-free Caribbean.


    Writer Bio:


    Dorial Quintyne is the Project Assistant for the Healthy Caribbean Coalition’s Healthy Food Policy Project and holds a Master’s degree in Public Health from Seoul National University, South Korea. She is a passionate youth tobacco control advocate and an active member of Healthy Caribbean Youth.






    This article was posted in its entirety as received by This media house does not correct any spelling or grammatical error within press releases and commentaries. The views expressed therein are not necessarily those of, its sponsors or advertisers


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