Tobacco companies target children in middle to low income countries
The World Health Organization recently made a sobering statement statement on how tobacco companies seek new customers: “Increasingly, it is targeting young people with nicotine and tobacco products in an effort to replace the 8 million people its products kill each year. In other words, children are a lucrative clientele to compensate for all the adults who die each year from smoking-related illnesses. In India, about eight million people die of this – creating a huge consumer void that, ostensibly, children can fill.
A study, published in BMJ shows exactly this: big tobacco companies use deliberate strategies to target children while selling their products. The key link is at the point of sale (POS), since advertising in most other forms is prohibited in most countries. Also, while much research has focused on high-income countries, the current study has focused on middle-to-low-income countries.–high-income countries, including India, and found that the scale of targeting was much greater than it appeared.
In particular, companies rely on four strategies: displaying products near sugary drinks and snacks, advertising at children’s eye level, promoting flavored cigarettes and selling single cartons of cigarettes.
There’s something particularly pernicious about this, pointing to “widespread marketing efforts that target some of the world’s most disadvantaged populations,” as the study notes. It is of particular concern that strategies prevail, given that scientific knowledge the consensus is clear on how these advertising strategies work, In fact, promote early smoking among young people.
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So far, India‘s anti-smoking regulations have not been very effective – and children are particularly susceptible to picking up the habit. In 2017, the Indian government drafted a proposal to answer exactly that. He suggested that tobacco vendors register as such with local authorities and, also, do not sell sweets, candies or other products that would attract non-smokers to the store. Two years later, a study by the Consumer Voice and Voluntary Health Association of India found that the biggest tobacco companies routinely target children from the age of eight.
Moreover, there are many other entry points other than these points of sale. Previous research has also shown that portrayals of smoking in Bollywood increased teens’ interest in smoking; celebrities are also using regulatory loopholes to endorse tobacco products. Amidst all this, the current study also noted the use of delivery apps that advertise and sell tobacco; the age restriction feature on these apps is much easier to bypass, making it easier to access. “This method of advertising and selling is concerning because it is easily accessible to children and young people, who are often technicians.–savvy and highly proficient in the use of mobile applications,” the authors note.
“…in the absence of strict restrictions and enforcement, the tobacco industry uses similar marketing strategies all over the world with what we believe to be the specific intent of attracting and addicting children and young people”, the authors Remark in a comment on their research.