— In advance of World No Tobacco Day
on May 31, the World Health Organization is calling on countries to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, saying such marketing blackout could reduce tobacco use and save lives.
According to a WHO data, tobacco use kills nearly six million people annually; by 2030 that number is expected to rise to more than eight million, with four out of five deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
As smoking goes down in the richer countries, WHO officials say the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting poorer countries in Africa and Asia, along with women and young people, who are particularly vulnerable to their marketing strategies.
Douglas Bettcher, Director of WHO's Prevention of Non Communicable Diseases Department, says the industry knows advertising sponsorship and promotion is one of the most effective ways to get people hooked on smoking.
"Research shows very clearly that one-third of youth experimentation with tobacco occurs as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, sponsorship," he said. "Worldwide, 70 percent of young people aged 13 to 15 report regular exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion, sponsorship."
Noting that most tobacco users start smoking before the age of 20, he says the ban not only helps older smokers quit but is one of the best and most cost-effective ways to protect young people from starting the habit.
But he warns that tobacco industry marketing strategists are often quick to devise new promotional campaigns that defy the proposed restrictions.
"Things like handing out gifts and selling branded products such as clothing... Using trendsetters [or] well-known people to influence other people ... in cafes [or] nightclubs, for example, to get them hooked," he said, adding that television, online and social-media platforms are also utilized for giveaways and product placements.
The WHO reports that only 19 countries, representing just six percent of the world's population, have imposed complete bans on advertising. The organization also says that while the prevalence of smokers in general has decreased worldwide, anti-smoking control measures are most successful in countries where bans are fully implemented, such as Uruguay, where the prevalence of smokers has decreased by 17 percent, and in Turkey, where it has decreased by 13 percent.