Smoking, nicotine and children: exposing the tobacco industry’s tactics

World No Tobacco Day 2020

28 May, 2020

Ahead of World No Tobacco Day (31 May 2020) the European Respiratory Society’s (ERS) Tobacco Control Committee has issued an editorial attacking the tobacco industry’s tactics for marketing addictive nicotine products to children and young people.

The editorial is published today (28 May 2020) in the European Respiratory Journal and supports the World Health Organization’s 2020 theme for World No Tobacco Day, ‘Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use’. It gathers evidence from scientific research as well as the tobacco industry’s own documents to highlight the harms caused by nicotine to health, and it exposes how the industry gets around advertising bans to target young people.

Editorial co-author, Jørgen Vestbo, is head of the European Respiratory Society’s Advocacy Council and Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Manchester, UK. He said: “The tobacco industry has a long and established history of targeting young people when marketing its harmful products–we have seen it all before with combustible cigarettes. Due to the success of tobacco control measures, which have resulted in advertising bans and restrictions on the sale of products in many countries, we are seeing ever decreasing numbers of new smokers.

“This is bad news for the tobacco industry, so it has turned its attention to marketing novel products like e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and ‘smokeless’ tobacco products to young people, to create a new generation of nicotine addicts. The public health community has a responsibility to shine a light on the under-hand tactics of the tobacco industry, to engage with young people and to protect them from the harms caused by nicotine.”

As discussed in the editorial, key strategies used by the tobacco industry to entice young people to use novel tobacco and nicotine products includes the use of:

  • appealing flavours, such as sweet fruits and candy flavourants;
  • in-direct marketing through TV, film and online, using social media influencers to glamorise the use of products;
  • unsubstantiated claims regarding the “safety” and “benefits” of using novel products;
  • attractive product designs that are intended to be discreet, convenient and to hide the fact that they are nicotine products;
  • suggestive placement of products, such as nearby to sweets and snacks within stores, at the point-of-sale.

Charlotta Pisinger, an editorial co-author, is chair of the ERS Tobacco Control Committee and Professor in Tobacco Prevention in the Department of Public Health at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She said: “The tobacco industry’s covert marketing tactics aim to hide the most important fact about its products: they are highly addictive and are harmful to the health of young people. Evidence shows that some e-cigarette vapour and compounds found in ‘smokeless’ tobacco products include known cancer-causing toxins, and among young people, there is evidence that nicotine exposure can harm cognitive function and brain development.

“Almost all independent research has revealed negative health effects due to novel tobacco and nicotine product use. These effects may have lasting consequences and lead to the development of chronic diseases later in life.”

The editorial strongly criticises the tobacco industry’s defence of e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and ‘smokeless’ tobacco products as being “harmless” alternatives to combustible cigarettes. The authors argue that young people are overwhelmingly non-smokers, therefore there is no reason why they should be targeted in the marketing of novel tobacco products.

There are also concerns that young people who become addicted to nicotine from using novel tobacco products are more likely to start smoking. Professor Vestbo said: “An increasing number of non-smokers use these products, and in adolescents, evidence suggests that they are a first step towards users smoking traditional cigarettes. The detrimental effects on health caused by cigarette smoking are now well known, so we cannot stand by while the tobacco industry manipulates young people to become addicted to nicotine and puts their health at risk.”

The European Respiratory Society urges the public health community, policymakers and the public the come together and support WHO’s World No Tobacco Day mission, by amplifying this message and engaging with the WHO’s World No Tobacco Day activities.

On the occasion of World No Tobacco Day, ERS reiterates the Society’s zero-tolerance position regarding the tobacco and vaping industries. ERS does not accept members who have any involvement with the tobacco or vaping industry, including by accepting funding for clinical or scientific work. This includes the Foundation for a Smoke Free World, an organisation that is funded by Philip Morris International, which is in line with the position of the WHO.

Resources for World No Tobacco Day

Resources Details
Open-access presentations on nicotine, youth and tobacco industry interference Professor Andy Bush, Paediatrics and Paediatric Respirology, Imperial College London and Royal Brompton Hospital, UK – watch the webinar

Professor Filippos Filippidis, ERS Tobacco Control Committee, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Imperial College London, UK – watch the webinar
ERS materials for policymakers and health professionals • ERS position papers: heated tobacco products and tobacco harm reduction
E-learning resources and selected publications
Social media infographics
Webinar organised by ERS, SFP, ENSP, ECL, ECPC and EPHA with the collaboration of WHO Europe Tobacco Exposed: protecting youth from deceptive tobacco industry marketing – watch the webinar
European Lung Foundation factsheets to share with patients and the public E-cigarettes, heat-not-burn and smokeless tobacco products
Quitting smoking: the benefits
Smoking when you have a lung condition

Visit the WHO World No Tobacco Day website