Did you know the tobacco industry has a hold on our youth?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and its global partners recognize May 31 annually as World No
Tobacco Day. The significance of this special day is to encourage people who smoke to quit and those
who don’t to never start. World No Tobacco Day is often celebrated by highlighting the health risks
associated with tobacco use and advocating for the effective monitoring of the sale, distribution,
consumption and promotion of tobacco products. Every year tobacco kills more than 8 million people, 7
million of which are due to tobacco use while approximately 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being
exposed to second-hand smoke.

This year’s theme for World No Tobacco Day, “Protecting children from tobacco industry interference”,
cuts to the core of a disturbing truth – The tobacco industry needs replacement users and youth are a
primary target. Many of us use social media and are constantly bombarded with advertisements.

Disturbingly, among these ads, the tobacco industry has found a way to infiltrate the screens of youth with
flashy, colourful promotions for their products. These ads are meticulously designed to appeal to youthful
sensibilities, making smoking and vaping seem attractive and harmless.

The Rising Threat of New and Emerging Tobacco Products

Traditional cigarettes are no longer the only threat. The rise of electronic cigarettes, oral nicotine products
etc., have introduced a new dimension to the problem. These products are often marketed as safer
alternatives or cessation tools, but they pose significant risks, especially to young, developing brains. The
appeal of e-cigarettes to adolescents is particularly troubling. A 2022 study of 47 countries found that
8.6% of youth reported using e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. In the Caribbean a handful of countries are
regulating e-cigarettes including Jamaica, Guyana, and Barbados, who have banned e-cigarette use in
public places. Antigua and Barbuda, along with Suriname, have taken an even stronger stance by
prohibiting the import, distribution, and sale of e-cigarettes altogether. Despite these measures, the Global
Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) data showed current use of e-cigarettes among 13-15-year-old students
ranging from 4.0% in Antigua and Barbuda to 17.2% in Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago has the
second-highest rate of youth e-cigarette use in all of the Americas, following the United States. Traditional
cigarette smoking among youth still continues to be a major concern because they are regarded as the
smokers of tomorrow as three to four out of every ten ever-smokers, in the Caribbean region, initiated
smoking before the age of 10 years.

Tobacco use, in any form, is linked to numerous health risks, including an increased likelihood of
developing cancer, heart disease, and respiratory conditions. Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)
or e-cigarettes containing nicotine are particularly harmful as they can lead to nicotine addiction, which
adversely affects brain development in adolescents, potentially impairing memory, concentration, and
learning abilities. Even e-cigarettes without nicotine or electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS)
can be dangerous due to the inhalation of harmful chemicals and flavourings that can cause respiratory
issues and other health problems. Nicotine pouches, though marketed as a safer alternative, still deliver
highly addictive nicotine and can lead to dependency, oral health issues, and an increased risk of
transitioning to other tobacco products. The link between vaping and mental health issues is becoming
increasingly evident. A U.S study published in 2019, examined the association between e-cigarette use
and depression and found that current e-cigarette users had more than twice the odds of reporting a
history of clinical depression compared to those who had never used e-cigarettes. Specifically, current
e-cigarette users were 2.10 times more likely to report depression, with the odds increasing with the
frequency of use.

The Tobacco Industry’s Pervasive Marketing Strategies

As a youth tobacco control advocate, I am especially concerned with the tobacco industry’s persistent
marketing in the Caribbean. With social media being widely used, especially among young people,
tobacco companies are leveraging platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X formerly known as Twitter, and
TikTok to promote their addictive products. These companies, having honed their skills in targeting youth,
are now implementing online marketing strategies that are both sophisticated and pervasive. These
strategies include lifestyle campaigns that link tobacco and nicotine with freedom, rebellion, and
youthfulness, creating an appealing image that resonates strongly with adolescents. Additionally, tobacco
companies are compensating social media influencers to endorse their brands subtly, seamlessly
integrating their products into the daily lives of young followers. A report from the Campaign for
Tobacco-Free Kids, titled #SponsoredByBigTobacco, reveals that promotional content for Velo, IQOS and
Vuse (products by British American Tobacco and Phillip Morris) has accumulated over 3.4 billion views on
social media and reached more than 150 million young people under the age of 25.

The tobacco industry is also using carnivals and festivals as a marketing opportunity. For example, British
American Tobacco heavily promoted their vaping device, Vuse, during the Jamaican Carnival. They used
social media to advertise a promotion where purchasing Vuse products gave participants a chance to win
a t-shirt package to Play Mas. They even had their own carnival truck and tents where Vuse products
were prominently displayed. This type of marketing not only targets young adults but also attracts young
children and teenagers, embedding the presence of tobacco products in the festive and culturally
significant atmosphere of carnival. This concerted effort has allowed Big Tobacco to reach a massive
young audience, making addictive products seem normal and even desirable through extensive in-person
and social media exposure.

From conversations with my peers, it’s clear why vapes are so enticing: the wide range of flavours, their
trendy image, affordability, and the misleading perception that they are harmless.Companies like Philip
Morris and the West Indian Tobacco Company Limited have capitalised on these perceptions by
advancing their own “smoke-free vision” – marketing their vaping devices as “risk-reduced alternatives”
and a way for adult smokers to quit tobacco. However, the evidence shows a different story. Studies have
shown that youth often misunderstand these claims, and are led to believe that these products are without
harm, leading to an increased likelihood of nicotine and tobacco-use initiation.

The Urgent Need for Comprehensive Regulations

The WHO’s newly published report, Hooking the Next Generation: how the tobacco industry captures
young customers, has revealed the strategies employed by the tobacco and nicotine industry to entice
youth. Recent statistics show that 85% of 15–30-year-olds have been exposed to e-cigarette advertising,
with higher exposure linked to increased use. In light of this data, Caribbean youth are joining the call to
action on World No Tobacco Day 2024, urging our governments to protect us from the manipulative
tactics of the tobacco industry. This call to action aims to raise awareness and mobilise efforts to prevent
the targeting and exploitation of young people by these harmful products and deceptive strategies. It is
crucial to reveal how the industry markets new products as “reduced risk” alternatives, misleading young
consumers. Moreover, comprehensive regulations are essential to protect youth from new tobacco and
nicotine products. Extending smoke-free laws to include e-cigarettes and other novel products, as well as
banning flavours that appeal to young users, are vital steps in preventing the renormalization of smoking

In collaboration with the HCC, I developed the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Portal, which serves as a
platform to share information, strategies, and resources to combat tobacco use and influence policy
changes. For WNTD 2023, the HCC launched a report developed in collaboration with PAHO:, Vaping
Among Adolescents and Youth in the Caribbean Situation, Policy Responses and Recommended Actions,
which provides guidance to Caribbean governments. Governments play a crucial role in this fight and
should take decisive actions to safeguard youth. Based on this report’s recommendations, I urge our
governments to implement and enforce the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC):

● Implement and enforce comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and
sponsorship (TAPS), including guidelines for digital and cross-border marketing, to prevent
tobacco companies from exploiting new media platforms to target youth.
● Raise prices and taxes on tobacco and nicotine products to make them less affordable and
less accessible to young people.
● Strictly enforce bans on the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to children.
● Address tobacco industry interference and conflict of interest. The tobacco industry’s
persistent interference in policy-making demands stringent measures. Rejecting any partnerships
or agreements with the industry is paramount, given their history of undermining tobacco control
efforts. Moreover, enhancing transparency in the industry’s lobbying and marketing practices is
imperative to safeguard policy-making processes from undue influence. Good governance
policies must be enacted to ensure transparency and address conflict of interest and industry
interference, aligning with the principles outlined in the 2023 Bridgetown Declaration on NCDs
and Mental Health and Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC.
● Update legislation to include ENDS and ENNDS to address the evolving landscape of tobacco
products and ensure comprehensive protection for youth.

As we commemorate World No Tobacco Day 2024, we must remember that safeguarding our youth from
the tobacco industry’s predatory practices is non-negotiable. The rise of new and alluring tobacco
products, coupled with the relentless barrage of social media marketing, underscores the urgency of our
response. Our governments must heed the call to action, enacting comprehensive regulations and
enforcing existing frameworks like the WHO FCTC with unwavering determination. By prioritising
transparency, accountability, and the well-being of our youth, we can dismantle the tobacco industry’s web
of deceit and protect future generations from the grip of addiction and disease.

Let this day serve as a catalyst for change, uniting us in our resolve to build a nicotine and tobacco-free
Caribbean. (PR)

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