Urgent action needed to shield youth from tobacco industry

By Francis Allan L. Angelo

The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) marked World No Tobacco Day today, May 31, by issuing a call for urgent measures to protect young people from the predatory tactics of the tobacco industry.

The organization highlighted the industry’s persistent efforts to obstruct responsible anti-tobacco legislation.

Tobacco use remains a major global health crisis, being responsible for 85% of all lung cancer deaths and approximately 25% of all cancer deaths worldwide. This translates to around 2.5 million preventable deaths each year.

Despite a decrease in global tobacco use from 1.36 billion in 2000 to about 1.25 billion users aged 15 and older, the decline has not been as significant as hoped. Disturbingly, over 38 million young people aged 13 to 15 are currently using some form of tobacco.

The UICC criticized the tobacco industry for its misuse and abuse of science, its opposition to anti-tobacco laws, its attempts to influence public health debates, and its aggressive marketing of harmful products, which have severely undermined public health efforts.

Prof. Jeff Dunn AO, President of UICC, and Head of Research at the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, condemned the industry’s strategies.

“The tobacco industry spends billions to relentlessly target young adults to recruit them as lifelong consumers to replace those who have smoked themselves to an early death. We must protect young people from these harmful products and help them understand the degree to which they are being influenced by companies that are concerned not with their health but only by profits.”

Emerging nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, snus, and nicotine pouches, are often marketed as safe alternatives to traditional cigarettes. However, evidence suggests these products pose significant health risks, including the potential for lifelong nicotine addiction and a higher risk of smoking dependency.

Digital platforms have become a new frontier for the tobacco industry, allowing it to bypass advertising bans and promote tobacco products under the radar.

Despite stringent regulations under the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), tobacco companies exploit loopholes to market to youth.

Elvina Majiwa, a youth advocate, pointed out in a recent UICC blog that in Kenya, tobacco companies use influencers to promote nicotine pouches and sponsor high-profile events to target young people.

In a podcast, youth activists Agamroop Kaur and David Planas Maluenda discussed the need for anti-tobacco campaigns to use peer-to-peer education and influencers to spread health-positive messages.

UICC advocates for stronger marketing controls on nicotine products, increased tobacco taxes, and the creation of smoke-free areas.

Ulrika Årehed Kågström, President-elect of UICC and Secretary-General of the Swedish Cancer Society, emphasized the importance of these measures.

“The tobacco industry’s tactics are ruthless and manipulative. They fuel high rates of tobacco use among young adults, directly exposing them to increased cancer risks. This undermines efforts to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and die of it. We owe it to the next generation to protect them from tobacco products by implementing and enforcing robust tobacco control policies.”

Tobacco control will be a key topic at UICC’s upcoming World Cancer Congress in September, focusing on the implementation of the WHO FCTC guidelines to strengthen global tobacco control measures.