World No Tobacco Day 2020: Youth Perspectives

louis-johansson speaking out about world no tobacco day

World No Tobacco Day (May 31), is a global day that aims to raise awareness on the harmful effects of tobacco use and second-hand exposure, and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form. WNTD 2020 focuses on protecting youth from tobacco and related industry manipulation and preventing youth from using tobacco and nicotine products. This WNTD NCD Child joins the fight in exposing industry manipulation and creating a tobacco-free generation by empowering young people with the knowledge and tools to stand up against big tobacco companies.

Read on to learn how NCD Child youth advocates are joining the fight against tobacco industries in their country and the message they have on WNTD.

NCD Child youth advocates celebrate WNTD 2020
Louise Johansson

Louise Johansson is a global health advocate from Sweden working with two non-profit organizations. She is the Education Executive at “A Non Smoking Generation”, dealing with tobacco prevention among young people through lectures and social media, and has been working in the tobacco prevention field for seven years, inspiring and motivating young people and advocating for policies like smoke-free public places, tobacco-free school time.

How are tobacco and related industries manipulating and attracting young people to tobacco or nicotine products in your country?

The tobacco industry in Sweden is trying hard to claim themselves as a public health partner by “harm reduction” and they are constantly trying to weaken or ally themselves with everyone who is within public health. Innovations are a top strategy used to attract a younger crowd. The Swedish snus (a pouch one puts under the lip) industry, as well as e-cigarette and heat-not-burn brands, are on the offence. By circumventing the current legislation, they make attractive package design, appealing flavours and market products directly to young people with influential profiles through social media. They falsely call their nicotine pouches “white” and “tobacco-free” which makes it appear less harmful and more sustainable to many youths. We know that it is nothing of those things, the nicotine is extracted from the tobacco plant and this is green- and health washing in its purest form.

What are some ways to empower young people to engage in the fight against Big Tobacco?

We allude to the fact that young people have a lot of empathy and do not want to contribute to an unsustainable future. My organization, A Non Smoking Generation, are running a project called “Tobacco Children – 50 crones and child labour on the purchase”. Through a lecture, we provide information without any judgement or pointers on how the tobacco industry is affecting sustainable development. The aim of our project is to increase awareness and knowledge of the global consequences of the tobacco industry such as child labour, marketing tactics, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. The fact that young people often feel immortal means that personal health arguments usually have been ineffective. Our latest measures reveal that 92% stated that there are arguments in the lecture to refrain tobacco.

What is your message for this World No Tobacco Day?

Swedish politicians are patting themselves on the back because the tobacco usage among grown-ups is relatively low, but they are forgetting that we still have a high prevalence of tobacco use among young people. I want political will and action from brave politicians who do not let the industry set the field. Young people require protective legislation through policies like ‘tobacco-free school time’ and coherent legislation to be one step ahead of the vector of this epidemic, the tobacco industry.

Margianta Surahman is the co-initiator of Youth Movement for FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control), which focuses on supporting Indonesia to sign FCTC and enforce tobacco control policies to protect children and young people from cigarettes. He is a standing advocate for raising awareness about tobacco on both a national and international level.

How are tobacco and related industries manipulating and attracting young people to tobacco or nicotine products in your country?

There are currently 7.8 million child smokers in Indonesia. Big tobacco industries in Indonesia operate as philanthrocapitalists. They attract children and young people to their products with advertisements shown in places that are often visited by young people such as theaters, kiosks around schools, and are actively promoting on social media. Industries sponsor concerts, scholarships, sports, literature, even environmental CSRs to make us think we owe them, distracting us from their dangerous products that deteriorate our public health. With our loose tobacco control regulations and well-spread pro-tobacco myths, Big Tobacco thrives.

What are some ways to empower young people to engage in the fight against Big Tobacco?

The issue of tobacco goes way beyond a health issue. It consists of power relations, vested-interests, and years of perpetuated manipulation against exploited farmers, labours, and especially youth as potential long-term smokers and investment for Big Tobacco.

Knowing this, Youth Movement for FCTC chose to focus on exposing Big Tobacco’s manipulative tactics that target young people. Assisted by Lentera Anak Foundation, we support tobacco control policies by youth-led research, training, campaign, and advocacy and have produced: one national declaration; 11,022 letters; 30,000 petitions; and countless training with the support of 102 communities and thousands of youth in 31 cities across Indonesia.

 What is your message for this World No Tobacco Day?

Together, we should advocate and campaign on more than smoking as behaviors. We must fight against Big Tobacco’s misleading political and cultural lies and strip them of their philanthrocapitalistic influence. On World No Tobacco Day 2020, let’s realize who our real common enemy is, the big tobacco industries who are profiting as they manipulate our health policies and lure youth to their deadly and addictive products.

Dan Hunt is a researcher based in UK, working on the commercial determinants of health and unhealthy commodity lobbying strategies. He will be starting his PhD with the Global Obesity Centre in Melbourne and currently works as a freelance global health policy consultant for a range of NGOs, and has worked on studies looking at the tobacco industry’s use of social media for PR and lobbying purposes.

How are tobacco and related industries manipulating and attracting young people to tobacco or nicotine products in your country?

I’m particularly appalled by how tobacco companies use social media as a desperate attempt at credibility. Attempts to ‘rebadge’ Big Tobacco as caring about society smack of hypocrisy. Using CSR, they try to suggest they care about gender equity or a world without smoking, while actively seeking to addict millions of people, including women and youth, to cigarettes.

What are some ways to empower young people to engage in the fight against big tobacco industries?

Commitments in England and Scotland to a ‘smoke-free generation’ and a ‘smoke-free nation’ respectively are excellent examples of government leadership. They rightly recognize that no children should be condemned to poorer life-chances, early illness or death, because they were addicted to something by an insidious industry. Research has shown the benefits that achieving a smoke-free goal can have on preventing disease, and saving money for health systems and populations.

What is your message for this World No Tobacco Day?

Without young people as tomorrow’s customers, the tobacco industry fails. We can’t believe the hype, tobacco is the only product that kills if used in the way the manufacturer intends.

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