World No Tobacco Day: Protecting Children From Tobacco Industry Interference

Tobacco continues to pose a significant global health challenge, contributing to millions of deaths annually despite widespread efforts to curb its usage.  In the Caribbean region, tobacco use remains a major public health concern.

“The use of tobacco products in any form – whether it is smoked, smokeless, or electronic – harms nearly every organ of the body. Tobacco use is one of the main risk factors for noncommunicable diseases, associated with lung cancer, and coronary heart disease in adults; and acute respiratory conditions and severe asthma in children,” stated Dr. Joy St. John, Executive Director of the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA).

Observed annually on 31 May, World No Tobacco Day 2024 focuses on protecting children from tobacco industry interference. This campaign raises awareness about the harmful influences of the tobacco industry on young people and underscores the need to shield them from the manipulative tactics employed by the tobacco industry to promote their products.

Currently, 11.3% of adolescents between 13 and 15 years of age in the Region use tobacco, compared to the world average of 10.3%.

The tobacco industry has a long-standing history of targeting young demographics through aggressive marketing strategies, including advertising, promotions, and sponsorships. These tactics, designed to glamorize tobacco products and downplay associated health risks, contribute to increased youth tobacco use.  E-cigarettes are often promoted as “reduced risk”, “smoke-free”, and “socially acceptable” consumer products.  However, there have been increasing reports of harmful effects of e-cigarettes such as various forms.

In the Caribbean region, as globally, there has been progress in reducing the use of tobacco, including among adolescents and youth. However, this progress is being put at risk by an increase in the use of electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS/ENNDS), also called electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or vapes, particularly among young people.  Nicotine in e-cigarettes is a highly addictive drug and can damage children’s developing brains.  Young persons who use e-cigarettes likely double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.

Tobacco use among Caribbean youths persists due to entrenched cultural norms. Celebrations and rituals often revolve around smoking, complicating prevention efforts, while accessibility remains high despite regulatory measures. While modest reductions in adolescent smoking prevalence have been observed over five years, significant disparities between Caribbean countries persist. Limited implementation of the WHO- Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) measures underscore the need for tailored interventions and data collection improvements to address tobacco use among youths. Further implementation of tobacco control measures is essential to sustain and accelerate reductions in adolescent smoking rates regionally.

CARPHA plays a vital role in combating tobacco use in the Caribbean. Dr Heather Armstrong, Head, Chronic Disease and Injury: “At CARPHA, our approach involves thorough research and surveillance to understand youth tobacco trends and develop targeted interventions. This includes advocating for strong tobacco control policies and implementing public awareness campaigns through various media channels. Member States are encouraged to work together to prevent and reduce the use of all forms of tobacco products, and scale-up efforts to implement their commitments under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  By doing so, the negative impact of smoking and its consequences on the health of our people, especially the younger generation, and the tremendous burden on the economies of the countries in our Region, will greatly be reduced.”

CARPHA collaborates closely with organisations like the WHO and PAHO, as well as NGOs and civil society groups, to maximize the impact of their efforts and engage stakeholders in addressing this public health issue collaboratively.

On Friday, 31 May 2024, Dr. Heather Armstrong, Head of Chronic Diseases and Injury at CARPHA joined other panellists, including CARICOM Youth Ambassadors (CYAs), and regional youth leaders in a Webinar on ‘Dangers and current trends in the use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes among Youths’.   The Webinar was hosted by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat.

More Information About Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth

Preventing tobacco product use among youth is critical, and involves:

  • Protecting children from tobacco industry interference.  This requires a multifaceted approach involving regulations, educational initiatives, and collaborative efforts across various sectors.
  • Enforcing age restrictions and implementing effective age verification measures to prevent minors’ access to tobacco products.
  • Strengthening tobacco packaging and labelling regulations by enforcing plain packaging laws and incorporating graphic health warnings can mitigate the appeal of tobacco products to youth.
  • Promoting tobacco-free environments in places frequented by children and integrating tobacco prevention education into school curricula is vital for raising awareness about the health risks associated with tobacco use.
  • Empowering youth to advocate against tobacco industry interference and engaging parents and caregivers in efforts to protect children from tobacco marketing tactics further fortify these initiatives.

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