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Placing Youth at the Center of World No Tobacco Day 2024

A journalist took part in a doodling challenge, drawing over a photo of a vape store and transforming it into a healthier lifestyle, during Smoke Free Agents’ press conference on June 6 as part of the #DirtyECigs campaign to encourage youths to stay away from e-cigarettes.

As global smoking rates drop, the tobacco industry is employing predatory marketing tactics to hook young people on their deadly products and secure a new generation of profits.

This World No Tobacco Day, held on May 31, the World Health Organization chose the theme of “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference,” underscoring the critical need to prevent future generations from falling prey to the harms of the industry’s tobacco and nicotine products.

Vital Strategies and its partners around the world joined World No Tobacco Day 2024 efforts to expose Big Tobacco and push for regulations that protect children and young people from the industry’s predatory practices.

“The tobacco industry continues to pour unprecedented resources to expand their reach and profits by targeting countries with weak regulatory environments. We cannot let them,” Vital Strategies’ CEO José Luis Castro said in a statement. “The way forward is clear: to reduce tobacco use and prevent youth from starting, governments must enforce effective tobacco control laws, and support communication campaigns that raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco.”

Those dangers have a devastating human toll. Tobacco products kill half of the people who use them. Every year, tobacco use kills more than 8 million people, including 1.3 million who lose their lives to secondhand smoke exposure. And according to the Tobacco Atlas, an estimated 50 million youth aged 13-15 smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco products. 

 A joint report by the World Health Organization and STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, was released ahead of World No Tobacco Day. “Hooking the Next Generation” highlights how the tobacco industry captures young customers with product designs and marketing campaigns that appeal to children and young people, while influencing policy to help it peddle its products to the youth of the world. A virtual WHO youth rally, press event and range of other activities amplified the voices of young people calling on governments to protect them from the tobacco and nicotine industry.

The emergence of e-cigarettes and other new products presents a grave threat to youth and tobacco control. Studies show that e-cigarette use increases conventional cigarette use, particularly among nonsmoking youth, by nearly three times. And the WHO-STOP report shows that globally, where it is measured, the rate of e-cigarette use among adolescents exceeds that of adults.

“Addicted youth represent a lifetime of profits to the industry,” said Jorge Alday, Director, STOP at Vital Strategies. “That’s why the industry aggressively lobbies to create an environment that makes it cheap, attractive and easy for youth to get hooked. If policymakers don’t act, current and future generations may be facing a new wave of harms, characterized by addiction to and use of many tobacco and nicotine products, including cigarettes.”

Vital Strategies’ World No Tobacco Day programming amplified the voices of young people, who are speaking out for themselves against the perils of tobacco addiction. In keeping with this year’s theme, Vital Strategies’ team in Indonesia collaborated with the youth group Social Force in Action for Tobacco Control to run the #DirtyECigs digital campaign. The campaign kicked off in April with a video posted on Instagram explaining the facts about electronic cigarettes, which was viewed by more than 20,000 people. Another 19,000 people viewed three Instagram Live sessions with a doctorhealth practitioners and an environmental activist

In May, more than 60 middle school, high school and university students participated in a session on digital engagement to support the #DirtyECigs campaign organized by Vital Strategies during the Youth Forum of the Indonesian Conference on Tobacco or Health. Other activities to promote World No Tobacco Day in Indonesia—a country with lax tobacco regulations—included a podcast episode featuring the Indonesian Child Protection Agency and influencer Benazeo Rizki Putra, a press conference attracting 36 media outlets, and a #DirtyECigs campaign TikTok challenge.

A doodle drawn by a youth advocate transformed an image of a vaping girl into a singing girl while holding a microphone. The doodle was part of the #DirtyECigs campaign to encourage youths to stay away from e-cigarettes. More than 300 people submitted their doodles during the campaign period.

Vital Strategies is committed to fostering a world where all people are protected by comprehensive, lifesaving tobacco control legislation.

To help governments assess progress toward a less tobacco-friendly regulatory environment, the Tobacco Atlas—a partnership between Vital Strategies and Tobacconomics at Johns Hopkins University—highlighted the current state of tobacco control and shared data from the newly released 3rd edition of the Tobacconomics Cigarette Tax Scorecard. Using 2022 data from the WHO Global Tobacco Control Reports, it scores 170 countries’ cigarette tax policy performance using a five-point scale. Scoring components used include cigarette price, changes in affordability, the tax share of the price, and the tax structure used. The scorecard shows that governments have made insufficient progress, and in some cases regressed, in addressing the world’s leading cause of preventable death, despite established evidence that the most effective tool—tobacco taxation—would reduce smoking and increase revenues. 

Vital Strategies is proud of the work of our staff and partners to promote this agenda, including Gustavo Sóñora, Vital Strategies’ Regional Director of Tobacco Control, Latin America, who was named a 2024 World Health Organization World No Tobacco Day Award winner for his outstanding accomplishments in the field of tobacco control. 

For more than 20 years, Sóñora, a lawyer, has championed tobacco control and children’s rights against corporate interests. His career began in his home country, Uruguay, where he played a pivotal role in the approval of the 2008 Tobacco Control Law as a parliamentary advisor. Vital Strategies was also thrilled to celebrate its many partners that were recognized as WHO World No Tobacco Day 2024 winners.

Since 2007, Vital Strategies has worked with 44 countries to deliver more than 420 evidence-based, media campaigns and build local capacity to spotlight the harms of tobacco. Our tobacco control campaigns support policies to discourage and reduce smoking and reach millions around the world. 

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