By Joaquin Barnoya, MD, MPH, Research Assistant Professor, Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, Washington University in St. Louis
This year, World No Tobacco Day has a theme of ‘Ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.' Implementation of these bans is critical to protect young people from starting smoking and to reduce tobacco consumption globally. According to research, about one-third of youth will experiment with tobacco because of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. Globally, about 78 percent of young people aged 13 to 15 have reported regular exposure to some form of tobacco advertising.
Currently, tobacco kills nearly six million people every year and WHO estimates that this figure will be larger than eight million by 2030. These numbers are staggering, yet have the potential to go up without interventions. As the multi-billion dollar tobacco industry develops clever non-traditional ways to advertise - e.g. online, point of sale, direct to consumer, this ban is more important than ever. Big Tobacco is especially focused on targeting women and children in developing countries to tap into new markets. The industry hands out free cigarettes at venues frequented by women and children, and cleverly places products and brands at the point of sale and in films and television programs. The focus on the advertising ban, part of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control treaty (FCTC), comes at a time when more than one third of countries have minimal or no restrictions at all, according to the WHO.
As a researcher in Guatemala, I have worked with my colleagues to generate multiple studies on secondhand smoke exposure, point of sale advertising and single cigarette sales that have raised awareness and knowledge about this serious public health problem in Guatemala and throughout Latin America. The data are clear - those living in low-and middle-income countries are being manipulated by the tobacco industry and a comprehensive ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship can help stop this deadly trend. Tobacco industry executives actively try to block tobacco control progress, so we must do more to ensure that everyone is no longer exposed to ads which clearly encourage usage. In Guatemala, for example, we can employ strategies to reduce or eliminate advertising which is still highly prevalent at point of sale and in magazines that target adolescents and young adults.
I join all global health leaders, advocates, researchers and civil society who are advocating for greater implementation of this important provision of the FCTC. In addition, we must fight to ensure that tobacco industry-sponsored self-serving CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts are also addressed. There is no legitimate form of CSR by tobacco companies whose business depends on addicting people to a product that kills one half of its users.
I look forward to joining forces with others in this fight against the number one cause of cancer worldwide and encourage everyone to expose the tobacco industry on every front.