Youth and smoking

World No Tobacco Day was observed on May 31. This year’s observances were held under the theme: “Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use.” This year’s theme is indeed quite relevant and timely, as increasingly we are seeing the tobacco industry utilising more innovative and attractive ways to lure young people into smoking.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 40 million young people aged 13-15 have already started to use tobacco. This, by any measure, is quite alarming, and one can only imagine the kind of impact this would have on our young people if urgent action is not taken to discourage such actions.
For this year’s observances, the WHO embarked on a global campaign to highlight the “strategic, aggressive and well-resourced tactics” employed by the tobacco industry to target youths and debunk the myths they create.
The campaign seeks to provide young people with the knowledge required to easily detect industry manipulation – from product design to marketing campaigns – and equip them with the tools to rebuff such tactics, thereby empowering young people to stand up against them. The WHO described this effort as a counter-marketing campaign as it will reinforce work in assisting countries in implementing effective policy interventions to reduce the demand for tobacco.
Dr Kavita Singh, Guyana’s Chronic Diseases Coordinator and Secretary of the Tobacco Control Council, lamented the fact that the tobacco industry was capitalising on new trends, targeting young persons. She noted that it was during this point in time that ‘big tobacco’ was using strategic marketing techniques to try to get young people to experiment with the new and emerging novel products like the e-cigarettes and the heated tobacco products.
While there is a myth that these products are safe, they are equally as harmful as the smoke of an actual cigarette. According to WHO, smoking e-cigarettes and hookah pipes – marketed as “safer” alternatives to conventional cigarettes – is harmful, addictive, and increases the risk of developing heart and lung disease.
Of note is that these products have the same tobacco, which has cancer-causing cells among other deadly emissions. The WHO notes that most of the countless flavours on offer – such as bubble-gum and candy –- are there to attract youngsters who at least double their chance of smoking cigarettes later in life.
It should be stated that tobacco is responsible for over seven million deaths per year worldwide. This includes approximately 900,000 persons who die from diseases related to exposure to tobacco smoke. Over 40 per cent of all tobacco-related deaths are from lung diseases like cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and tuberculosis.
Guyana’s tobacco control law, enacted in 2017, follows several of the articles of the WHO Convention and mandates the adoption and implementation of a series of tobacco control policies that make it one of the most complete tobacco control laws. These include: 100 per cent smoke-free environments in all indoor public spaces, indoor work spaces, public transportation and specified outdoor spaces to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke; a ban on all forms of advertising and promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products; health warnings featured on 60 per cent of tobacco product packaging, including images. It also includes a ban on the sale of tobacco products to and by minors, prohibition on vending machines sales; and a ban on the manufacture and sales of toys and candies, and any other goods in the form of tobacco products.
However, there is still much work to be done to win the battle against tobacco as 78 per cent of all deaths here are caused by non-communicable diseases (NCDs), some of which we all know are strongly related to tobacco use.
Having the necessary legislation in place is a good starting point, but there are many other challenges which health authorities here must address if Guyana is to really reduce the number of persons dying or becoming ill due to tobacco use or exposure. These challenges relate to monitoring and compliance, stricter enforcement of the legislation to ensure that the population is protected from the dangers of tobacco use and more recently, tackling the newer forms of cigarette substitutes which are proving to be very attractive to youths.