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Tobacco Companies Targeting Teens 

Afrikaanse Media Vrystelling

20 May 2024The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) draws attention to World No Tobacco Day (31 May), driven by the theme ‘Protecting children from tobacco industry interference’. The focus is on promoting stronger regulations that shield youth from harmful tobacco products and deceptive advertising practices. 

#NoTobacco #WorldNoTobaccoDay

According to CANSA, through extensive social media and streaming platform campaigns, young people are increasingly exposed to the allure of tobacco products, posing a significant threat to their health and well-being. Tobacco products are being sold, displayed and marketed in ways that attract kids. View video ‘Tobacco and Youth’.  

“Tobacco use is a major contributor to a host of cancers, it’s responsible for 25% of all cancer deaths worldwide, amounting to an estimated 2.5 million deaths annually. Smoking accounts for about 85% of all lung cancer deaths, highlighting the critical need for concerted efforts to decrease tobacco use globally,” says Lorraine Govender, CANSA’s National Manager, Health Programmes.

“Worldwide, more than 38 million young people aged 13–15 years (about 10%) use some form of tobacco. The South African Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted in 2021 indicate 23.9% of youth between the ages of 15-24 use tobacco products.”  

She adds, “In the past, tobacco companies were allowed to sponsor music and sports events, often on tertiary education institution campuses, where they would distribute free samples to encourage teenagers to try their products.”  

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Now with strict advertising and sponsorship regulations that no longer allow this type of marketing, as well as a ban on tobacco-related adverts on several platforms, tobacco companies have had to find new, less obvious ways in which to entice people, especially the youth, to smoke their products. 

The result is the tobacco industry has resorted to misleading marketing. For example, e-cigarettes are presented by tobacco companies as less harmful than ordinary cigarettes, with flavours, such as, ‘blueberry ice’, ‘cool mint’ and ‘creamy tobacco’, which are known to be appealing to youngsters.  View video ‘What’s Inside a Vape?’.

“They are marketed as ‘reduced risk’ and ‘smoke-free’, however, these products, like tobacco, contain addictive nicotine and pose health risks and undermine efforts to reduce the number of people who develop cancer and die from it. We owe it to the next generation to protect them from tobacco products and deceptive online advertising, and counter the industry’s aggressive tactics aimed at renewing its customer base,” states Govender.  

The sophisticated use of digital platforms by tobacco companies to market to young people is also a significant issue as it complicates enforcement of advertising restrictions. These companies exploit social media’s extensive reach, engaging influencers who often fail to disclose their associations with tobacco promotions.

Heated tobacco products (HTPs) are promoted as a healthier alternative to smoking; however, their long-term effects are still being studied. These products are designed to heat actual tobacco without combustion. They produce an aerosol (not smoke) containing nicotine. Hookahs, or water pipes, are used for smoking flavoured tobacco. The tobacco is heated by charcoal and the smoke passes through water before inhalation. Hookahs are popular in social settings, with some parents even allowing their children to use them. However, they still pose health risks due to the inhalation of tobacco smoke and other harmful substances, such as, carbon monoxide, metals and cancer-causing chemicals. 

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The 2023 Big Tobacco Tiny Target South Africa study, conducted by the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum and part of a global campaign, observed 409 points of sale (POS) in South African cities that sold tobacco and nicotine products (TNPs) within a 300-metre radius of primary and secondary schools. The findings included that about 68% of cigarette displays were at a child’s eye level, and that e-cigarettes were the most popular emerging products sold. Nearly two-thirds of the POS sold flavoured cigarettes, about 38% sold snuff, close to 30% sold hookahs, nearly 19% sold cigars, 15% pipe tobacco and 7% snus (moist oral tobacco). Nearly half the POS selling and advertising TNPs were spaza and small grocery shops.  

About 20% of university students and 16% of secondary school learners use tobacco.  

Cites Govender: “Schools play a significant role in bringing these figures down. For schools to effectively prevent and decrease tobacco use among their learners, they must create an environment that encourages anti-tobacco beliefs and behaviours. While making sure that no learners use tobacco on school premises is helpful, also prohibiting tobacco use by teachers, other school staff and visitors sends a much more powerful and constructive tobacco-free message.”  

Govender says one way in which to create anti-tobacco awareness among learners is to get them involved in interactive tobacco-free projects. “To reinforce the school’s tobacco-free policies and strengthen its related programmes, schools could offer learners opportunities to work on projects to lower the pro-tobacco influences at school and in their communities. And of course, school premises should be completely off limits to tobacco companies.”

During May, as a build up to World No Tobacco Day on 31 May, CANSA representatives are visiting at least two schools in each province to hold focus groups discussions with grades 4 to 7, educating learners on the dangers of tobacco use and how the tobacco industry is targeting them.   

Schools can access CANSA’s website for further information on educational material for their no-tobacco campaigns.  CANSA is advocating for the passing of the Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill. Members of the public can help CANSA to strengthen tobacco control efforts by signing up as volunteers.  

* SAMHSA. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 2016.   

HHS, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, A Report of the Surgeon General, 2012. HHS, Youth and Tobacco: Preventing Tobacco Use among Young People: A Report of the Surgeon General, 1994, (p. 49).  

CDC, “Projected Smoking-Related Deaths Among Youth-United States,” MMWR 45(44):971-974, November 8, 1996,

U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Cigarette Report for 2022 (data for top 4 manufacturers only)

World No Tobacco Day 2024: Protecting children from tobacco industry interference | UICC 

 First National Global Adult Tobacco Survey Highlights Huge Burden Tobacco Use SA

(For more information, please contact Lucy Balona, Head: Marketing and Communication at CANSA at email Call 011 616 7662 or mobile 082 459 5230.)

CANSA offers a unique integrated service to the public and to all people affected by cancer. CANSA is a leading role-player in cancer research and the scientific findings and knowledge gained from our research are used to realign our health programmes, as well as strengthen our watchdog role to the greater benefit of the public. Our health programmes comprise health and education campaigns; CANSA Care Centres that offer a wide range of care and support services to those affected by cancer; stoma and other clinical support; medical equipment hire, as well as a toll-free line to offer information and support. We offer a Tele Counselling service in seven languages free of charge. We also supply patient care and support in the form of 8 CANSA Care Homes in the main metropolitan areas for out-of-town cancer patients and CANSA-TLC lodging for parents and guardians of children undergoing cancer treatment.

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