The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of the rising use of harmful non-cigarette tobacco products among young people, especially girls. This year's World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31, is focusing on the tobacco industry's deceptive practices of marketing non-cigarette products as being a safer, healthier alternative to cigarettes.
The World Health Organization says all tobacco products are addictive, harmful and can cause death, regardless of how they are packaged and presented to the public. As an example, it cites water pipes, also known as shishas, narghiles or hubble-bubbles.
The Coordinator of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, Douglas Bettcher, says water pipes are seen to be sexy and are marketed as being safer products.
"The idea that somehow the bubbling smoke through water is going to reduce the toxins is completely false," she said. "I mean you put a chunk of coal at the top of a water pipe, which in itself has a number of different carcinogens and toxic products. Added to these types of products, they are adding fruit flavors to water pipes, selling oral tobacco products as alternatives to smoking."
Dr . Bettcher says the tobacco industry is promoting certain smokeless tobacco products as alternatives to smoking in planes and other areas where smoking is not allowed.
He says other products being marketed include new types of flavored, natural or organic and roll-your-own cigarettes. He says these often are advertised with names and packaging that might mislead consumers into believing they are less dangerous than conventional cigarettes.
WHO estimates tobacco causes five million deaths a year, half of them in developing countries. If current smoking trends continue, by 2020, it says seven out of 10 tobacco-related deaths will be in the developing world.
Katherine Hammond, a Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, says these products are being aggressively marketed to specific groups, especially women and young people.
"In societies where smoking is not acceptable among women and only two or three percent of women smoke, among young girls, sometimes as much as 63 percent are smoking water pipes with this new flavoring additives and this sense of acceptability of this different product," she noted. "And this is one of the concerns, is this marketing to make them acceptable to young people and to women, young girls, along with the idea that they might be safe."
Dr. Hammond says this is a practice that is largely found in countries in the Middle East.
The World Health Organization says regulation is urgently needed to control this growing list of tobacco products. It says tobacco is deadly in any form or disguise and the industry must be legally obliged to disclose all the ingredients contained in their products.