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Opinion

Youth Speak Out Against Big Tobacco

Global Youth Voice at WHO’s ‘WalkTheTalk’ event, May 26, 2024, Geneva. Picture courtesy: FCTC Convention Secretariat

BANGKOK, Jun 7 2024 (IPS) - Each year, millions of children worldwide fall prey to the targeted tactics of the tobacco industry in its attempts to lure new customers. This year’s World No Tobacco Day (May 31), aptly themed “Protecting children from tobacco industry interference”, saw global youth unite to confront the pervasive influence of Big Tobacco.

The Global Youth Voices (GYV) movement, convened by the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), has become a powerful front to hold the tobacco industry accountable and safeguard the well-being of future generations.

The addictive nature of nicotine, a key ingredient in tobacco products, is largely unknown to many. Nicotine is as addictive as cocaine or heroin, manipulating nerve cells to release more dopamine, which creates a feeling of ‘high’. The young brain creates more receptors to handle the anticipated nicotine, which leads teens to needing more nicotine to get the same high.

This addiction is particularly potent in young brains, which continue to develop until about age 25, making teens more susceptible to addiction. Among youth, smoking causes faster heart rates, shortness of breath, increased risk of lung cancers, reduced lung function, limitations on performance and endurance , and other health issues. ,

Moreover, emerging evidence shows that Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) or e-cigarettes, launched by the industry as alternate tobacco products are harmful and may act as a gateway to conventional smoking among young people or the renormalization of smoking in society.

At a momentous summit hosted by GYV, the youth adopted a Declaration demanding comprehensive measures to address the tobacco industry’s exploitation of young people.. They called for accountability from the tobacco industry for luring young people into addiction and inflicting harm on health and the environment. They urged governments, educational institutions, international organizations, and the media to combat the industry’s insidious influence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has thrown its weight behind the role of young people in combating the tobacco and nicotine epidemic and, underscores the pivotal role of youth as a force of change and a key element in shaping a tobacco-free future. This acknowledgement of the energy, passion, and innovation that young voices bring to the table is instrumental in galvanizing a global movement against Big Tobacco.

The tobacco industry has long manipulated and ensnared youth into lifelong addiction through flavored tobacco products and targeted marketing. According to WHO, about 37 million children (13-15 years) globally use tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Young e-cigarette users are two to four times more likely to transition to traditional cigarettes, underlining the urgency of the situation as it threatens to roll-back any achievement in controlling youth smoking.

Beyond addicting youth, the tobacco industry inflicts significant environmental harm, costing an estimated US$26 billion annually due to plastics in cigarette butts and packaging. Cigarette butt pollution has become a pervasive global issue, exacerbating environmental degradation for future generations.

The urgency of addressing the tobacco industry’s profound threat is indisputable. Dr. Mary Assunta, Head of Research and Advocacy at GGTC, highlights the need to dismantle the industry’s deceptive web to protect children, “The tobacco industry is a diabolical predator preying on children, despite its claims of not targeting them. Telling children not to smoke or vape is simply not enough. We must act to prevent the industry from trapping our youth.”

In response to these alarming trends, GGTC has empowered youth to counter the tobacco industry’s ploys. Its new advocacy toolkit, “Protecting youth from tobacco industry interference” offers easy–to-execute strategies and guidance to tobacco control advocates.

To harness the creativity of youth to expose the deceptive tactics of the tobacco industry, a global media competition, the ‘Social Reels Challenge,’ a collaboration with WHO, provides a platform for youth to voice their concerns..

With millions of children worldwide falling into nicotine addiction trap, it is imperative to act decisively and stop the exploitative actions of the tobacco industry. The voices of youth must be heard, their stories shared, and their calls to action heeded as we work towards a future free from the grip of Big Tobacco.

The collective efforts of global youth supported by international organizations and the public health community are spearheading this vital movement to safeguard the health and well-being of present and future generations. Together, we can pave the way for a healthier, tobacco-free future.

Rajika Mahajan is the Communications Officer at GGTC.

IPS UN Bureau

 


  
 
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