Children using e-cigarettes more likely to smoke

As cigarette sales have fallen, tobacco companies have been aggressively marketing new products – like e-cigarettes –to hook another generation on nicotine, the WHO says.

29 July 2021 | Health

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than eight million people a year around the world.

More than seven million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

Many countries are making progress in the fight against tobacco, but a new World Health Organisation (WHO) report shows some are not addressing emerging nicotine and tobacco products and failing to regulate them.

For the first time, the 2021 report presents new data on electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as ‘e-cigarettes’.

These products are often marketed to children and adolescents by the tobacco and related industries that manufacture them, using thousands of appealing flavours and misleading claims about the products, the report says.

Gateway drug

WHO is concerned that children who use these products are up to three times more likely to use tobacco products in the future.

“Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.

“Where they are not banned, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems, and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups.”

So far, 32 countries have banned the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems. A further 79 have adopted at least one partial measure to prohibit the use of these products in public places, prohibit their advertising, promotion and sponsorship, or require the display of health warnings on packaging. This still leaves 84 countries where they are not regulated or restricted in any way, according to the report.

Dying habit

“More than one billion people around the world still smoke. And as cigarette sales have fallen, tobacco companies have been aggressively marketing new products – like e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products – and lobbied governments to limit their regulation. Their goal is simple: to hook another generation on nicotine. We can’t let that happen,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, WHO global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases and injuries and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The report further noted that more than four times as many people are now covered by at least one WHO-recommended tobacco control measure as compared with 2007.

The six MPOWER measures protect people from tobacco smoke, offering help to quit, warning about the dangers of tobacco, enforcing bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship and raising taxes on tobacco.

Some 5.3 billion people are now covered by at least one of these measures - more than four times the one billion who were covered in 2007.

The report adds that more than half of the world’s population are exposed to tobacco products with graphic health warnings.

“However, it says that progress has not been even across all MPOWER measures. Some measures like raising tobacco taxes have been slow and 49 countries remain without any MPOWER measures adopted.

Namibians slow to quit

Namibia became a party to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control on 5 February 2006.

The Tobacco Products Control Act of 2010 is the primary tobacco control law in Namibia and regulates, among other things, smoke-free places, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and tobacco packaging and labelling.

Regulations accompanying the Act set out implementing details for tobacco product health warnings, signage at the point of sale, product regulation measures, prohibited distance of smoking tobacco products from public places and workplaces, and measures to prevent illicit trade in tobacco products.

The Act does not make provision for e-cigarettes/vaping directly. This is because the it is primarily focused on tobacco products. If an e-cigarette contains any form of tobacco product, the Act then comes into play.

Namibia remains one of the countries in Africa with a high estimated prevalence of tobacco smoking, according to the WHO, which ranks Namibia's tobacco consumption eighth in Africa.

In 2000 the overall prevalence was estimated to be around 20%; this changed very little by 2015, with a projection to increase slightly to 21% by 2025.

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