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Tobacco companies are targeting teens, says CANSA

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa, there is an alarming number of teenagers and young adults addicted to tobacco products, and the organisation is campaigning to promote stronger regulations that shield the youth from harmful tobacco products and deceptive advertising practices.

THE Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) is campaigning ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31, driven by the theme ‘Protecting children from tobacco-industry interference’. According to a statement from CANSA, the focus is on promoting stronger regulations that shield youth from harmful tobacco products and deceptive advertising practices.

According to CANSA, through extensive social media and streaming-platform campaigns, young people are increasingly exposed to the allure of tobacco products, which poses a significant threat to their health and well-being. Tobacco products are being sold, displayed and marketed in ways that attract kids.

“Tobacco use is a major contributor to a host of cancers; it’s responsible for 25% of all cancer deaths worldwide, amounting to an estimated 2.5 million deaths annually. Smoking accounts for about 85% of all lung cancer deaths, highlighting the critical need for concerted efforts to decrease tobacco use globally,” said Lorraine Govender, CANSA’s national manager of health programmes.

“Worldwide, more than 38 million young people, aged 13 to 15 years (about 10%), use some form of tobacco. The South African Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted in 2021 indicates that 23.9% of youth between the ages of 15 and 24 use tobacco products,” said Govender.

Nip your teen’s smoking habit in the butt
According to CANSA, through extensive social media and streaming platform campaigns, young people are increasingly exposed to the allure of tobacco products, posing a significant threat to their health and well-being. Tobacco products are being sold, displayed and marketed in ways that attract kids. Photo: Stock image

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Misleading marketing

She adds, “In the past, tobacco companies were allowed to sponsor music and sports events, often on tertiary education institution campuses, where they would distribute free samples to encourage teenagers to try their products.”

Now with strict advertising and sponsorship regulations that no longer allow this type of marketing, as well as a ban on tobacco-related adverts on several platforms, tobacco companies have had to find new, less obvious ways in which to entice people, especially the youth, to smoke their products.

Govender says the result is the tobacco industry has resorted to misleading marketing. “For example, e-cigarettes are presented by tobacco companies as less harmful than ordinary cigarettes, with flavours such as, ‘blueberry ice’, ‘cool mint’ and ‘creamy tobacco’, which are known to be appealing to youngsters,” said Govender.

“They are marketed as ‘reduced risk’ and ‘smoke-free’, however, these products, like tobacco, contain addictive nicotine and pose health risks and undermine efforts to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and die from it. We owe it to the next generation to protect them from tobacco products and deceptive online advertising and counter the industry’s aggressive tactics aimed at renewing its customer base,” she said.

CANSA said the sophisticated use of digital platforms by tobacco companies to market to young people is also a significant issue as it complicates enforcement of advertising restrictions.

Tobacco products flood the market

“Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are promoted as a healthier alternative to smoking, however, their long-term effects are still being studied. These products are designed to heat actual tobacco without combustion. They produce an aerosol (not smoke) containing nicotine. Hookahs or water pipes are used for smoking flavoured tobacco. The tobacco is heated by charcoal, and the smoke passes through water before inhalation. Hookahs are popular in social settings with some parents even allowing their children to use them. However, they still pose health risks due to the inhalation of tobacco smoke and other harmful substances, such as carbon monoxide, metals and cancer-causing chemicals,” said CANSA.

The 2023 Big Tobacco Tiny Target South Africa study, conducted by the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum and part of a global campaign, observed 409 points of sale (POS) in South African cities that sold tobacco and nicotine products (TNPs) within a 300m radius of primary and secondary schools. The findings included that about 68% of cigarette displays were at a child’s eye level and that e-cigarettes were the most popular emerging products sold. Nearly two-thirds of the POS sold flavoured cigarettes, about 38% sold snuff, close to 30% sold hookahs, nearly 19% sold cigars, 15% pipe tobacco and 7% snus (moist oral tobacco). Nearly half of the POS selling and advertising TNPs were spaza and small grocery shops. About 20% of university students and 16% of secondary school learners reportedly use tobacco.

The 2023 Big Tobacco Tiny Target South Africa study, conducted by the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum and part of a global campaign, observed 409 points of sale (POS) in South African cities that sold tobacco and nicotine products (TNPs) within a 300m radius of primary and secondary schools. Photo: Wolfgang Minich/dpa/Corbis

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“Schools play a significant role in bringing these figures down. For schools to effectively prevent and decrease tobacco use among their learners, they must create an environment that encourages anti-tobacco beliefs and behaviours. While making sure that no learners use tobacco on school premises is helpful, also prohibiting tobacco use by teachers, other school staff and visitors sends a much more powerful and constructive tobacco-free message,” cites Govender.

Govender says that one way to create anti-tobacco awareness among learners is to get them involved in interactive tobacco-free projects. “To reinforce the school’s tobacco-free policies and strengthen its related programmes, schools could offer learners opportunities to work on projects to lower the pro-tobacco influences at school and in their communities. And of course, school premises should be completely off limits to tobacco companies.”

How to help

During May, as a build-up to World No Tobacco Day on May 31, CANSA representatives are visiting at least two schools in each province to hold focus group discussions with grades 4 to 7, educating learners on the dangers of tobacco use and how the tobacco industry is targeting them.

Schools can access CANSA’s website for further information on educational material for their no-tobacco campaigns. CANSA is advocating for the passing of the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. Members of the public can help CANSA to strengthen tobacco control efforts by signing up as volunteers. 

CANSA is advocating for the passing of the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. Photo: CANSA

 

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