WHO stands its ground against tobacco industry

Monday October 02 2023

A man exhaling smoke from an electronic cigarette. PHOTO | AFP


The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants smoking and vaping banned in schools in the face of relentless targeting of young people by the tobacco and nicotine industry.

Saying that almost half of all children worldwide are exposed to air polluted by tobacco smoke, WHO said tobacco industry's tactics have led to an increase in the use of e-cigarettes, with statistics showing that nine out of 10 smokers start before the age of 18, and some as young as 11.

“Considering children spend one-third of their waking hours in school, and much of the peer pressure they encounter occurs within these environments, schools play a pivotal role,” WHO said.

Read: 'No doubt' e-cigarettes harmful: WHO

While smoking rates have declined among teens, WHO highlights the rise of novel and emerging tobacco and nicotine products, and e-cigarettes. These products have become more accessible and affordable due to the sale of single-use cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which often lack health warnings.

“If we don’t take urgent action now, we risk seeing the next generation of tobacco and nicotine users recruited through tobacco industries’ unethical practices,” said Dr Hans Henri Kluge, regional director for WHO European Region.


Short of outright ban

To coincide with the return-to-school in many countries, WHO has released two publications, “Freedom from tobacco and nicotine: guide for schools” and the “Nicotine and Tobacco-Free Schools Toolkit.” These resources aim to provide guidance and support for schools in creating smoke- and nicotine-free environments.

The WHO also condemns marketing strategies used by the industry to target young people.

The WHO urges educators and policymakers to take decisive action, including banning nicotine and tobacco products on school campuses, prohibit sale of such products near schools, and banning direct and indirect advertising and promotion of these products near classrooms and refuse to accept sponsorship or engagement with tobacco and nicotine industries for school projects.

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Speaking in Geneva, WHO medical officer Dr Kerstin Schotte warned that tobacco kills “eight million people every year, or one person every four seconds”. Meanwhile, 1.3 million people who die from tobacco smoke don’t even use the product themselves but breathe in second-hand smoke.

Dr Schotte noted that “half of the world’s children breathe tobacco polluted air and as a consequence, 51,000 children die every year due to exposure to tobacco smoke”.