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Saving youths from menace of tobacco industry interference

Africa, and indeed Nigeria is known for its generally youthful population.

However, data show that these youths are endangered as the tobacco industry has targeted them for their ‘predatory’ tobacco marketing tactics to create profits, thereby breedi…


Africa, and indeed Nigeria is known for its generally youthful population.

However, data show that these youths are endangered as the tobacco industry has targeted them for their ‘predatory’ tobacco marketing tactics to create profits, thereby breeding a new wave of addiction.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people around the world every year.

The 2024 WHO Global Report on Trends reveals that children are using e-cigarettes at rates higher than adults in many countries and globally an estimated 37 million youth aged 13 to 15 years use tobacco.

It revealed that 22 countries in the African region are on track to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in tobacco use by 2025. However, it emphasised that progress has been stifled by rising numbers of young tobacco smokers due to tobacco industry influence.

This year, once again, WHO and public health champions from across th
e globe have come together, leveraging the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) celebrated annually on May 31, to raise awareness about the harmful influences of the tobacco industry on youth.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2024 is ‘Protecting children from tobacco industry interference’. It emphasises the need to protect future generations and ensure that tobacco consumption continues to reduce.

WHO report titled ‘Hooking the next generation: how the tobacco industry captures young customers’ shockingly revealed that the industry works to reach children and youth to replace customers who quit or die.

According to the report, internal tobacco industry documents, dating as far back as the 1970s, show that tobacco companies have long considered children and youth to be ‘replacement smokers’, ‘pre-smokers’ and a critical market to sustaining their business and the future of their brands.

‘The range of products the industry uses to appeal to youth has expanded significantly, from cigarettes, cigarillos and shisha
to newer products like e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products and nicotine pouches.

‘Flavoured products and additives, sleek designs and child-friendly packaging and imagery make addictive products even more appealing to youth.

‘Companies rapidly launch new products that sidestep, or are not included, in current laws, and use every available means to expand their market share before regulations can catch up with them,’ it said.

The health agency revealed that the industry’s tactics include positioning many nicotine products as ‘safer’ than cigarettes, potentially distracting policy-makers and consumers from the fact that nicotine itself is addictive and harmful, particularly to children and youth.

‘For example, e-cigarettes with nicotine are highly addictive and are harmful to health.

‘While long-term health effects are not fully understood, it has been established that they generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and some that increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.

‘Us
e of e-cigarettes can also affect brain development, potentially leading to learning and anxiety disorders for young people,’ it said.

The health agency lamented that the tobacco industry was succeeding in its efforts to create a new generation of young people who smoke, vape, suck nicotine pouches or use snuff. It noted that evidence from around the world shows an alarming uptake by children of some products, such as e-cigarettes.

‘History is repeating, as the tobacco industry tries to sell the same nicotine to our children in different packaging.

‘These industries are actively targeting schools, children and young people with new products that are essentially a candy-flavoured trap.

‘How can they talk about harm reduction when they are marketing these dangerous, highly addictive products to children?,’ Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General queried.

During a virtual World No Tobacco Day webinar with Journalists, Mr Caleb Ayong, Executive Director, Vital Voices for Africa (VVA), Togo, said tobacco
infringes upon children’s basic rights to health and welfare, noting that child labour in tobacco production persists in many parts of Africa.

Ayong emphasised that 14 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved with tobacco industry operations, noting that it portends threats to actualisation of universal health coverage, disease prevention, and mental health promotion.

‘Tobacco industry targets young people with aggressive marketing, investing billions on the advertisement of its products. It organises parties, concerts, and product placements to specifically lure young and impressionable minds to its products and activities,’ he said.

He called for collaboration in shielding children from the clutches of tobacco, empower them with knowledge, and advocate for policies that prioritise their health.

According to him, journalists hold immense power to ignite change, expose industry lies, and inspire action through their reports, urging them to amplify the voices of youths, unmask tobacco
industry’s deception, and create a world where every child breathes freely.

Similarly, Philip Jakpor, Executive Director of Renevlyn Development Initiative (RDI), said the media plays a strategic role in exposing the tactics of the tobacco industry through incisive reports to elicit policy level interventions

‘It is the media that must put our governments on their toes to ensure they do not shirk their primary responsibility of protecting our children,’ he said.

According to him, the MPOWER package of WHO focuses on six effective measures to reduce demand for tobacco products.

‘The W denotes the ‘Warn about the dangers of tobacco’, which is a role that the media is tasked with carrying out. The media shapes tobacco-related knowledge, opinions and influences individuals and policy-makers.

‘For signatories to the WHO-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO-FCTC) mass media anti-tobacco campaigns are key components of their tobacco control programmes,’ he said.

Corroborating Jakpor, Mr Achieng Otieno,
Being Africa, Kenya, explained that the WHO-FCTC was a blueprint for governments to adopt effective tobacco control and assist curb the global tobacco epidemic.

Otieno noted that the goal of the framework was to protect the present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental, and economic consequences of tobacco (and nicotine products) consumption and involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke.

‘The FCTC plays a vital role in promoting and protecting children’s rights concerning tobacco control by advocating for policies and measures to prevent tobacco use initiation, reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, provide access to information and education, and safeguard public health policies from industry interference,’ Otieno said.

Besides, Mohammed Maikuri of Development Gateway, emphasised that the economic burden of smoking, including health expenditures and productivity losses, was estimated at $1.4 trillion annually, with a significant portion of this cost borne by developing countr
ies.

Maikuri said treating diseases caused by tobacco was estimated to have cost Nigeria ?526.4 billion in 2019, which was nearly one tenth of all healthcare costs in the country.

According to him, Development Gateway, in collaboration with the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Health, supported by the Gates Foundation, leads the DaYTA (Data on Youth Tobacco in Africa) programme, focusing on addressing critical data gaps related to adolescent tobacco use in Nigeria.

He said that the initiative aims to gather comprehensive country-level data on tobacco use among young people aged 10 to 17, thereby filling critical evidence gaps and complementing existing data.

Maikuri, however, said that Nigeria’s performance got worse in a 2021 survey showing that the tobacco industry was intensifying its interference in spite of Nigeria’s tobacco control legislation and efforts.

Commenting, Ms Oluchi Robert, Tobacco Control Advocate, noted that WHO report had shown Nigeria, the world’s seventh most populated country, has bee
n recognised by major transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) as a market with enormous income potential due to its large youth population and expanding GDP.

Robert lamented that the tobacco industry in Nigeria, like in many other countries, targets children and youths through various tactics including product marketing, advertising, flavoured products and accessibility.

‘Tobacco industry covertly engages in product advertisement through product placements in movies, music videos and use of social media to reach the younger audience.

‘According to a 2020 cross-sectional study of school adolescents in Lagos, the most frequently reported channel of exposure was through product placements, with 62 per cent reporting exposure in films, TV, and videos.

‘Up to 15.2 per cent and 12.6 per cent were exposed to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship (TAPS) through promotional activities and sponsorships, respectively,’ she said.

She faulted the easy accessibility of tobacco products to children and youths,
through stores or online platforms.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalled that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), worried by the alarming increase in young and underage access to tobacco products, launched the ‘Don’t Burn Their Future’ campaign.

FCCPC said over 4.5 million Nigerians aged 15 and above are tobacco users, with more than 26,800 annual deaths attributed to tobacco-related diseases.

The Commission emphasised that the campaign was a resolute move to safeguard the health and future of Nigerian youth and to curb the detrimental impact of tobacco products on society.

FCCPC underscores the collective responsibility of individuals, communities, and a prioritised healthcare system in fostering a healthier future for the youth.

Contributing, Dr Tunji Akintade, said there was a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.

Akintade urged the government to strengthen its tobacco control policies,
improve awareness and educate the public and policymakers about the devastating health and social consequences of tobacco use.

Experts stressed that tobacco industry interference in health policy was a major reason why youth remain unprotected, or not as protected as they should be.

They urged the government to protect current and future generations and hold tobacco and related industries liable for the harm they cause.

Source: News Agency of Nigeria