• Saturday, June 15, 2024
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WHO accuses tobacco companies of aiming at young customers

‘Tobacco consumption responsible for 8 million deaths yearly’

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday accused tobacco companies of targeting young people with child-friendly packaging on social media, sports, and music festivals. This, according to the WHO, is a deliberate attempt to hook the younger population on nicotine.

Despite strict regulations targeting cigarettes, big tobacco companies and new entrants have begun offering smoking alternatives such as vapes, which they say are aimed at adult smokers.

However, the WHO said these products are often marketed to youth, their design and variety of fruity flavours appeal to children, and that young people are more likely to use the products than adults in many countries.

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Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, rejected the industry’s claim that it is working to reduce the harm from smoking. “It’s dishonest to talk about harm reduction when they are marketing to children,” he said.

The WHO’s increasingly tough stance on newer nicotine products follows a sharp rise in youth vaping across several countries.

It pointed to flavours like bubblegum as one driver of this rise. The industry says flavours are an important tool in encouraging adults to switch away from smoking.

Large tobacco companies have mostly steered away from such flavours. But firms including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco opened new tabs targeting youth via the sponsorship of music and sports festivals and the use of social media, the WHO said.

The WHO also said there was insufficient evidence that vapes help people quit smoking. “There is growing evidence they harm health, and that vaping increases traditional cigarette use, especially among youth.

However, Sarah Jackson, principal research fellow at University College London’s Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group, said these statements “do not accurately reflect current evidence on e-cigarettes”.

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Evidence shows e-cigarette use increases quit rates and that vaping poses only a fraction of the risks of smoking tobacco, she said, adding there is also little evidence of a causal relationship between vaping and smoking.