Children younger than 10 years old lighting up cigarettes, some hooked on one to two packs a day, is a familiar sight in many developing countries. It’s estimated, for instance, that 41 percent of boys in Indonesia between the ages of 13 and 15 smoke cigarettes regularly. And an illustration of an extreme example appeared on the internet, where a video of an Indonesian 2-year-old lighting up went viral several years ago.
The children see billboards advertising cigarettes a short distance from schools, and they can buy cigarettes cheaply at kiosks run by tobacco companies.
“When we see somebody dying of lung cancer or oral cancer in adulthood, virtually always that’s the last chapter in the book that began with a child,” said Matt Myers, president of the group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The organization aims to cut the number of adult daily smokers — estimated to be 740 million people worldwide — by actively partnering with countries to adopt anti-tobacco programs and policies.
“If we can cut off that spigot, if we can cut off and prevent people from ever starting, then we will be able to win the long term effort,” Myers said.
Deaths from diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease are now considered a global public health emergency. Smoking is a major culprit.
FILE - Mohamed, a Moroccan youth, smokes a cigarette near Melilla's harbor in Spain's north African enclave, Dec. 8, 2013.
Progress toward goal
Ten years ago, the World Health Organization adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to try to snuff out the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products. The world body, through its Non-Communicable Diseases Action Plan, has set a goal of reducing smoking by 2025 to a level 30 percent lower than it was in 2010.
And it has made progress: the percentage of people lighting up has gone down worldwide. But population growth means there are more smokers than ever before.
Myers said tobacco companies see their future in young smokers in less affluent countries, but that anti-tobacco forces are making strides.
“Two years ago, for the first time in recorded history, total cigarette sales across the globe were down," he said. "And that’s a direct result of those countries that have taken action beginning to see positive progress. We have a long way to go, but in many countries we have turned the corner.”
Countries where progress has been seen have forced tobacco companies to put graphic pictures of smoking-related diseases on their packs, enacted advertising bans and placed stiff taxes on tobacco products — all to discourage cigarette smoking by young and old alike.