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Hooked for Life – How Big Tobacco Companies Seduce Youth

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) partners with the World Health Organization http://www.who.int/  to highlight risks associated with tobacco use as part of World No Tobacco Day (31 May).  The aim is to advocate for effective policies to lower tobacco use. #WorldNoTobaccoDay

Globally the focus is on the link between tobacco and heart and other cardiovascular diseases including stroke, which combined are the world’s leading causes of death. Says Elize Joubert, CANSA’s CEO, “In South Africa, we’re concerned about the burden of tobacco and especially about the tactics adopted by the tobacco industry to target youth. Research shows tobacco use is often initiated and established during adolescence and young adulthood.”

Smoking remains a major preventable cause of disease and premature death globally http://www.cansa.org.za/avoid-tobacco/ . Annually, the global tobacco epidemic kills over 7 million people.  South Africa’s comprehensive Tobacco Control strategy over the last 20 years has been effective in dropping smoking use per capita – according to the SA National Health and Nutrition Survey 2013.  It showed 32.8% of men had ever smoked compared to 10.1 % of females.

The initial success of legislation of the past 20 years such as the Tobacco Products Control Amendment Act No.12 (1999), hikes in excise duty on cigarettes, and health promotions to educate on risks of tobacco use have led to a 30 % decrease in smoking among school learners.

However, a recent increase in smoking has been noted among youth (particularly girls) in SA from 2008 to 2011, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Surveys.

Partnership

Tobacco companies are engaged in systematic market research generating data on population trends, smoking patterns and attitudes towards smoking. Research revealed that 90% of smokers start the habit by age 18 and 99% start by age 26.

By altering the taste, smell and other sensory attributes of products, tobacco manufacturers entice new users, mostly youth, to start and continue smoking. They maximise the appeal of tobacco products in this age group, by means of introducing the following chemical additives:

  • Levulinic acid to reduce the harshness of nicotine; make smoke feel smoother and less irritating.
  • Flavourings, such as chocolate and liquorice, to boost sweetness of tobacco; mask the harshness of the smoke.
  • Bronchodilators to expand lungs’ airways, making it easier for tobacco smoke to pass into the lungs.
  • Menthol to cool and numb throat, reducing throat irritation; making smoke feel smoother.

“CANSA appeals to young people, be aware of these tactics and understand that these alterations to products while enhancing the experience, do nothing to reduce the long-term negative effects of smoking or the risk for several cancers,” added Joubert. #NoTobacco

Furthermore, CANSA warns against the use of hubbly bubbly, hookah pipes or water pipes http://www.cansa.org.za/hubbly-bubbly-or-hookah-smoking-increases-cancer-risk/. Popular among youth when socialising with friends, it’s important to note that tobacco is no less toxic in a hookah pipe than in other tobacco products. Water in the hookah does not filter out the toxic ingredients in the tobacco smoke. Hookah smokers may actually inhale more tobacco smoke than cigarette smokers do, because of the large volume of smoke inhaled in one smoking session. The sale of hookahs and products is prohibited by law to anyone under the age of 18.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) http://www.cansa.org.za/legal-status-e-cigarettes-in-sa/ and similar devices are frequently marketed as aids to quit smoking or as ‘healthier’ alternatives to tobacco.

Joubert states, “However, this has not been proven. They contain nicotine, so they’re addictive and may encourage novice users to later switch to combustible cigarettes. They’re particularly harmful and addictive to people under the age of 25, as their brains are still developing. This makes it easier for them to get addicted to nicotine after using even small amounts of e-cigarettes, which also contain other harmful chemicals. It’s rather recommended to quit smoking by proven treatments.”

CANSA encourages young smokers who have started using any tobacco product to get support to quit. CANSA has a free online eKickButt programme that helps with quitting smoking (www.ekickbutt.org.za). Counselling and medication can more than double the chance of a smoker to succeed when attempting to quit.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556031/

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