Fredag den 7 april infaller Världshälsodagen och årets tema – Health For All – handlar om att lyfta alla människors rätt till god hälsa. Tillsammans med organisationen GGTC (The Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control), som arbetar för ökad tobakskontroll runt om i världen, uppmärksammar vi tobaksindustrins manipulativa metoder för att fånga unga i beroende, och vad som krävs för att skydda hälsan hos alla generationer – idag och i framtiden.
Tobacco Industry’s manipulative tactics to hook future generations in lifelong nicotine addiction
Do you remember the times when doctors promoted different cigarette brands, or when tobacco industry executives denied the addictive nature of nicotine? If so, unfortunately you might already be one of the tobacco industry´s victims, or you were lucky to abstain in your younger days. If not, please watch out. The industry is repeating history by using the same lies and strategies, but now to lure you into trying one of its newer, shinier and “healthier” products. The industry claims its products are produced and marketed exclusively for adults, when its primary target group in fact is the younger generation and do not have your health in mind.
At the event of World Health Day 2023, with this year´s theme “Health For All”, it is vital to acknowledge the importance of global action to protect youth around the world from the manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry.
If you ask the tobacco industry today, it does not officially promote cigarettes anymore. If you ask many low- and middle-income countries, with weaker tobacco regulation and high smoking rates, the answer would be quite different. At the same time, the industry promotes new tobacco- and nicotine products as the solution to end the global smoking epidemic. Tobacco companies are clearly using all strategies available to create and sustain addiction in every corner of the world. All that matters is profits, not which product that generates them.
Now when large shares of the global population are aware of the dangers of cigarettes, the industry has moved on to deceive both policy makers and potential consumers about the health effects of their newer products. To achieve this, big tobacco companies keep recruiting and sponsoring medical practitioners, researchers and “public health experts” to promote their agenda and lobby for so-called harm-reduction. The public health community needs to be informed that the intention behind these efforts is not to enhance global health, but to legitimize the industry´s existence and influence in contexts and markets where cigarette sales are reducing due to strengthened regulation.
The million-dollar question, do novel tobacco and nicotine products contribute to reduce smoking rates? In fact, there is no independent scientific evidence in support of the assertion that these products help smokers switch to “less harmful” products. On the contrary, studies show that such attempts to quit smoking often sustain or even strengthen the unwanted behavior – and lead to a dual use. The concept of harm-reduction is primarily part of the industry´s plan to weaken or delay tobacco control policies, with the main purpose to facilitate the conversion of healthy younger generations into lifelong nicotine addicts.
Sadly, there are many alarming youth trends around the world proving this plan has been successful. In recent years, media has reported about the extensive vaping epidemic in the US, the increasing use of “le snus” in France due to a Tiktok-trend, and the explosion of both e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches in Sweden. While the tobacco industry tries to portray itself as a public health actor, youth around the world suffer from the harmful – and potentially deadly – consequences of its actions.
The currently weak or non-existent regulation of novel nicotine products around the world creates vast opportunities for the industry to target minors. As a result of various misleading marketing strategies many young people perceive these products as harmless and find them attractive. E-cigarettes and nicotine pouches are not only portrayed as a better alternative to cigarettes, but also called “tobacco-free” (even though the nicotine is extracted from the tobacco plant) and marketed through candy-like flavors, appealing product design, and extensive influencer-marketing in social media.
By exerting its financial power, the industry has also gained access to marketing channels reaching a global audience of millions of youth through product placement in popular culture and sponsoring of events. A new report from the Truth Initiative shows that 60 percent of the 15 most popular TV-shows among youth in 2021 contained tobacco imagery. Several reports from STOP reveal that tobacco sponsorship within Formula 1 exposes millions of youth to tobacco-related ads. To address the ongoing normalization and glorification of tobacco and nicotine products in youth´s everyday lives, the venues where young people are exposed to tobacco industry messaging need to be properly restricted.
If you ask the tobacco industry today, it does not deny the addictive nature of nicotine. Instead, it tries to undermine and downsize all evidence indicating that nicotine causes far more negative health effects. If you ask independent researchers, nicotine increases risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, birth defects and mental illnesses. Young people´s brains are especially vulnerable to addictive substances and the cognitive effects of nicotine in terms of depression, anxiety and learning disabilities. In addition, people who are exposed to nicotine at an early age are more prone to start smoking and misuse other drugs later in life.
More than nine out of ten tobacco users start during adolescence, due to peer pressure and the tobacco industry´s manipulative tactics. Tobacco control, including strict regulation of novel nicotine products, is an effective tool to promote health equality and Health For All generations of today and for those to come.
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