The World Health Organization (WHO) wants a ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, in a bid to protect the world’s 1.8 billion young people. The organization said it is urging all governments to to clamp down on the tobacco industry’s efforts to attract young people through “sophisticated marketing”.

WHO said research shows that the more exposed young people are to advertising, the higher the chance they turn into smokers, and yet comprehensive bans on advertising, promoting and sponsorsing tobacco products only covers about 5 per cent of the world population.

The organization accused tobacco companies of targetting young people by linking tobacco use with glamour, sex appeal and energy.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of WHO said:

“In order to survive, the tobacco industry needs to replace those who quit or die with new young consumers.”

“It does this by creating a complex ‘tobacco marketing net’ that ensnares millions of young people worldwide, with potentially devastating health consequences,” she added, urging all governments to bring in a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, which she referred to as a “powerful tool we can use to protect the world’s youth”.

Most people take up smoking before they are 18, and nearly a quarter of these before they even reach 10 years old. In a study sponsored by WHO, the researchers found that all over the world, more than half of 13 to 15 year olds reported seeing advertisements for cigarettes on billboards within the previous month, and 1 in 5 of the youngsters said they owned an item with a cigarette brand logo on it.

WHO said tobacco companies promote their products in lots of places frequented by young people: the cinema, the internet, magazines, and venues for sporting and music events.

The most aggressive targetting of young people by tobacco companies is in the developing world, where more than 80 per cent of the world’s youth lives, said WHO in a prepared statement. Most vulnerable to this targetting are women and girls.

Director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative, Dr Douglas Bettcher, said:

“The tobacco industry employs predatory marketing strategies to get young people hooked to their addictive drug.”

“But comprehensive advertising bans do work, reducing tobacco consumption by up to 16 per cent in countries that have already taken this legislative step,” he added, saying that “half measures are not enough”, and:

“When one form of advertising is banned, the tobacco industry simply shifts its vast resources to another channel.”

He urged all governments to impose a complete ban, and “break the tobacco marketing net”.

Source: WHO.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD