Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

Tobacco and youth

WHO

Problem

The tobacco industry spends tens of billions of dollars each year marketing its products in order to attract new customers to replace those that die or quit using tobacco. The majority of new customers are youths, with most tobacco users starting well before the age of 18, and almost a quarter of those individuals beginning tobacco use before the age of 10. This is one reason why tobacco use among young people has been referred to as a "paediatric disease". Youths often underestimate the risks of tobacco and the likelihood of becoming addicted. The younger children are when they first start using tobacco, the more likely they are to become regular users and the less likely they are to quit. If current trends continue, 250 million children and teenagers alive today who continue smoking into adulthood will die from tobacco-related diseases.

The tobacco industry employs a range of strategies to target youths, including in low-and middle-income countries where 80% of the world's youth live. The more young people are exposed to tobacco marketing, the more likely they are to use tobacco. Whether though more traditional advertising or indirect promotions and sponsorships, tobacco is falsely linked with glamour, adventure, vitality and social success. In addition to being widely promoted, tobacco is also widely available and can be seen being consumed by role models including parents, politicians, and movie stars (both on- and off-screen). These factors all lend to the social acceptability of tobacco, leading youths to view tobacco as just another consumer product, rather than a hazardous addictive product that kills half of its regular customers.

Second-hand smoke is also a serious issue for youths. Worldwide it is estimated that 40% of children up to age 14 are exposed to second-hand smoke. About 28% of the 600 000 deaths a year caused by second-hand smoke occur in children, with most of those deaths resulting from lower respiratory disease.

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