STOP Tobacco Industry Targeting Youth

By: Dr. Mary Assunta
Head of Global Research and Advocacy

Michael Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Bloomberg Philanthropies Founder fired a salvo, “When I was a kid, tobacco advertisement often featured fake doctors selling the health benefits of cigarettes. Today, tobacco companies are still hiding the truth about their deadly products – and finding new ways to get around laws that protect public health.”

Between 1920s to 1950s, the tobacco industry, as part of its youth marketing strategy, promoted messages that are known today to be patently untrue. The last few decades saw a similar strategy with the tobacco industry sponsoring sports and music, offering special promotions, handing out scholarships and making their cigarette packs more attractive to recruit new smokers, especially among the young and the poor.

In 2008, governments across the world adopted guidelines on implementing a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorship (TAPS), in accordance with Article 13 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). And yet today, tobacco companies still sponsor events popular with young people such as music and sports.

In Indonesia, where tobacco advertising and promotions is still allowed, main soccer and badminton tournaments are sponsored by tobacco companies, including the broadcast of the recent FIFA World Cup. Transnational tobacco companies such as Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) are focused on selling more cigarettes there.

Hence, it is no surprise that news of yet another Indonesian smoking toddler has emerged recently. And like the previous child in 2010, he too smokes 40 sticks a day. Cheap cigarettes, their easy accessibility and advertising contribute to why minors pick up smoking in Indonesia.

In Bangladesh, Philippines, Pakistan and Vietnam, tobacco companies sell “kiddie packs,” and other attractive packages displayed at points of sale areas that are most visible children. Cigarettes are also allowed to be sold in single sticks as these are tactics to reach minors and the poor.

The tobacco industry needs the young to grow and sustain its business. An R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s internal document on marketing to young states, “They represent tomorrow’s cigarette business. . . As this 14-24 age group matures, they will account for a key share of the total cigarette volume — for at least the next 25 years.” Globally about 25 million youth smoke and the smoking rates among girls are quickly catching up to boys.

1930s: Tobacco companies’ ads link cigarettes with “health” 2017: Tobacco companies’ sponsorship link cigarettes with sports and youth. (Djarum, is a well-known cigarette brand in Indonesia)

The STOP project, supported by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, is focused on ‘Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products’.  It aims to address the situation where governments have tightened up tobacco control legislation and applied comprehensive bans on TAPS, but the tobacco industry has found new and innovative ways to sell its addictive products.

STOP can anticipate tobacco companies’ new era of youth marketing tactics. The tobacco industry has entered a new phase in selling addictive products through electronic nicotine devices such as PMI’s IQOS, BAT’s Glo and JTI’s Ploom Tech that are being promoted as reduced risk products or less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. The World Health Organization (WHO) states there is no evidence to demonstrate that such devices are safe and warns against recreational use, especially among the youth. In many developing nations, a regulatory framework for protecting the youth from such addictive devices do not exist yet.

Materials: Refer to: TobaccoTactics: ‘A New Take on an Old Idea