While the Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss fights a lonely war against tobacco (including his announcement, yesterday, that all public smoking including bars, restaurants, offices and airports lounges), the World Health Organisation would be delighted with his crusade.
The WHO urged governments to protect the world’s 1.8 billion young people by imposing a ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
The WHO's call to action came on the eve of World No Tobacco Day, 31 May. This year’s campaign focuses on the multi-billion dollar efforts of tobacco companies to attract young people to its addictive products through sophisticated marketing.
Recent studies prove that the more young people are exposed to tobacco advertising, the more likely they are to start smoking. Despite this, only 5% of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Tobacco companies, meanwhile, continue targeting young people by falsely associating use of tobacco products with qualities such as glamour, energy and sex appeal.
"In order to survive, the tobacco industry needs to replace those who quit or die with new young consumers," said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. "It does this by creating a complex 'tobacco marketing net' that ensnares millions of young people worldwide, with potentially devastating health consequences."
"A ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is a powerful tool we can use to protect the world’s youth," the Director-General added.
Since most people start smoking before the age of 18, and almost a quarter of those before the age of 10, tobacco companies market their products wherever youth can be easily accessed – in the movies, on the Internet, in fashion magazines and at music and sports venues. In a WHO study of 13 to 15-year-olds in schools worldwide, more than 55% of students reported seeing advertisements for cigarettes on billboards in the previous month, while 20% owned an item with logo of a cigarette brand on it.
But it is the developing world, home to more than 80% of the world’s youth, which is most aggressively targeted by tobacco companies. Young women and girls are particularly at risk, with tobacco companies seeking to weaken cultural opposition to their products in countries where women have traditionally not used tobacco.