World No Tobacco Day, 2020:

May 31st is World No Tobacco Day, an annual awareness day sponsored by the World Health organization(WHO) since 1987.

The event is intended to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use. It also hopes to encourage government to adopt effective policies to reduce smoking and the use of other tobacco products.

Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical compound present in the tobacco plant.

Example of these products, include cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah tobacco, and most e-cigarettes contain nicotine.

Nicotine and Your Health

Addiction: Using any tobacco product containing nicotine can lead to nicotine addiction. This is because nicotine can change the way the brain works, causing cravings for more of it.

Some products, like cigarettes, are designed to deliver nicotine to the brain within seconds, making dependence easier and quitting more difficult.

Adolescent Brain Development: Although many teens underestimate how easy it is to become addicted to nicotine. Young people are mostly at risk for nicotine addiction because their brains are still developing.

In fact, the younger a person is when they start using these products, the more likely they are to become addicted.

Pregnancy and Fetal Health: When pregnant women use tobacco products, nicotine can cross the placenta and result in multiple adverse consequences.

These outcomes may include but are not limited to: premature labor, low birth weight, respiratory failure at birth, and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The focus this year is ” Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing youth from tobacco and nicotine use”.

The industry paints the use of these products as been beneficial and with lower risk whereas reverse is the case.

The World No Tobacco Day 2020 global campaign will serve to:

  1. Expose the tactics employed by the tobacco industry particularly those targeted at youth such as the introduction of novel products, flavors and other attractive features.
  2. Equip young people with knowledge about the industry’s strategy to get them hooked on tobacco use.
  3. Empower influencers (in pop culture, on social media, in the home, or in the classroom) to protect and defend youth and drive change by engaging them in the fight against the industry

How are tobacco and related industries manipulating youth?

  1. Use of flavors that are attractive to youth in tobacco and nicotine products, like cherry, bubble gum and cotton candy. These encourages young people to underestimate the related health risks and to start using them.
  2. Sleek designs and attractive products, which can also be easy to carry and are deceptive (e.g. products shaped like a USB stick or candy).
  3. Promotion of products as “reduced harm” or “cleaner” alternatives to conventional cigarettes in the absence of objective science substantiating these claims.
  4. Celebrity/influencer sponsorships and brand sponsored contests to promote tobacco and nicotine products (e.g. Instagram influencers).
  5. Point-of-sale marketing at vendor outlets frequented by children. Tactics including positioning near sweets, snacks or soda and providing premiums for vendors to ensure their products are displayed.
  6. Sale of single stick and other tobacco and nicotine products near schools, which makes it cheap and easy for school children to access nicotine products
  7. Indirect marketing of these products in movies, TV shows and online streaming shows
  8. Tobacco vending machines at venues frequented by young people, covered in attractive advertising and pack displays, and undermining regulations on sales to minors
  9. Litigation to weaken all kinds of tobacco control regulations including warning labels, display at point of sale, and regulations that limit access and marketing to children. (specifically provisions to ban the sale and advertising of products near schools)

How do we prevent our youth from tobacco and nicotine use?

Policy measures

  • Increased taxation
  • Stricter laws (and enforcement of laws) regulating purchase of these products, how and where they can be purchased, where and when they can be used.
  • Restrictions on advertising and mandatory health warnings on packages.

School or community level

Successful evidence-based interventions aim to:

  • Targeting risk factors for smoking such as having family members or peers who smoke. Being in a lower socioeconomic status, living in a neighborhood with high density of tobacco outlets etc.
  • Ensure that education measures target younger people especially males. The earlier a person starts smoking or using any addictive substance, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. Males are also more likely to take up smoking in adolescence than females.

Ichendu, Mary Chinuru

Pharmacist in training

University of Port Harcourt.