Tobacco industry targeting youth

The Medical Research Council says that tobacco and nicotine industries have taken aim at the young people. FILE

The Medical Research Council says that tobacco and nicotine industries have taken aim at the young people. FILE

Published Feb 19, 2024


Durban — The revelation that at least a quarter of students interviewed for a research project at tertiary institutions in South Africa’s metros used e-cigarettes should be a warning signal that galvanises all concerned to swing into action in protecting young people against the dangers of smoking.

So says South African Medical Research Council’s Dr Catherine Egbe following the release of a report in Durban on Thursday which showed that about 1 in 4 university students aged 18 to 24 years were actively using e-cigarettes, while almost 40% reported having used them.

The research focused on university students’ exposure to e-cigarette and hookah advertising and marketing around university campuses and other venues. It explored the association between the prevalence of product use, the students' knowledge, attitudes and perceptions, and their exposure to marketing.

According to the research, almost 1 in 3 students aged 18 to 24 years reported that they smoke a hookah, while about 47% reported having done so. Overall 77.8% had been exposed to advertising, marketing, and promotion of e-cigarettes.

Egbe cited this as an indication of how the tobacco and nicotine industries have taken aim at young people, using the most aggressive marketing campaigns to lure the youth to create the next market as the older generation is dying. She accused the big companies of presenting e-cigarettes as more trendy, saying this had seen a significant number of young people taking up smoking of e-cigarettes as it was appealing and was made “to be less harmful than smoking”.

“When a quarter of the student population on campus are smoking e-cigarettes and more than 70% are exposed to cigarette advertising we should all be worried,” said Egbe.

Another related study carried out by the South African Tobacco-Free Youth Forum (SATFYF) showed that pupils at both primary and secondary schools were being targeted. The research by the forum focused on 409 point-of-sales locations within a 300- metre radius of primary and secondary schools in six major cities: Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg, Pretoria, and Stellenbosch and found that the 92% of these points of sale sold cigarettes, with 68.2% of these displays targeting the eye level of a child.

The research results come as the Health Portfolio Committee continues with public hearings on the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill.

The Bill seeks to strengthen public health protection measures, including declaring some indoor public places and certain outdoor areas smoke-free; banning the sale of cigarettes through vending machines and forcing plain packaging with graphic health warnings and pictures.

There are calls for the implementation of graphic health warnings and plain packaging of hookah, e-cigarettes and cigarette products to communicate the health risks associated with use in an effective way.

Egbe said the passing of the new bill was crucial to the well-being of young people who had fallen prey to e-smoking because of marketing tactics by the cigarette and nicotine industry.

“This bill will regulate the advertising, marketing, and sale of tobacco and electronic delivery systems, including e-cigarettes and hookahs, and introduce measures to raise public awareness of the health risks associated with these products. It's a vital step to protect young people from the aggressive marketing and harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine products,” she said.

According to Egbe while they were focused on research and advocacy, they were hoping that the findings would alert everyone to the effects of all forms of smoking.

Responding to charges that the industry was targeting young people, Vapour Products Association of South Africa (VPASA) Chief Executive Officer, Asanda Gcoyi, labelled this as part of the dominant misinformation which she said they wanted to dispel.

“VPASA is against the sale of vapour products to underage users. We have repeatedly expressed our will to comply with the authorities on this issue,” she said.

Gcoyi cited a vaping code of conduct which urges responsible advertising for all members and insisted that young people were not the target market. She appealed for an open mind when making inputs on the Bill, and argued that in its current form it was problematic.

“The process requires an open mind that recognises that smokers are addicted to nicotine. The objective should be to give them tools to reduce the harm derived from smoking. The current version of the Bill is not grounded on harm reduction and will do more harm than good in the fight against youth vaping and smoking,” she concluded.

While the hearings were set for KZN next week, the Health Portfolio Committee’s Mava Lukani said they had been postponed to a date yet to be announced.

Sunday Tribune