Every year on May 31st, we celebrate World No Tobacco Day. This global campaign was introduced to keep reminding us of the achievements the world has made in the past decades when we work towards a world free from tobacco. With this year’s focus on protecting youth from industry manipulation, using posters with children and smoke, the campaign shows a painful yet truthful side to this multi-billion dollar business: it specifically targets young people to get them to start using tobacco and nicotine. This is in a region where almost all Member States are bound by the provisions of the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) which aims to protect “present and future generations” from the negative impacts that tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke brings. Yet, in Europe, 1 out of 8 children between the ages of 13 and 15 years smokes regularly, and too many young people use novel tobacco products.
While policymakers have had a focus on traditional tobacco products, the industry used the opportunity to divert young people to new tobacco products. E-cigarettes are being promoted as healthy and as a means of harm reduction, and they are not as vigilantly regarded as traditional products are. All the while they cause young people to be two times more likely to regularly use tobacco. The lessons that we learned from opening the market to the tobacco industry decades ago seem to not have been learned.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown that most governments are willing to implement measures to protect the public from a deadly disease. It is time that governments take similar measures to prevent the public, in particular young people, from damaging themselves by smoking. Governments should not shy away from taking more radical measures, especially when young people are stating that stricter measures would have prevented them from smoking. Governments should not allow the tobacco industry to target our next generations.
If we truly want a tobacco-free generation, this is our time to act.
The European Medical Students’ Association (EMSA) represents medical students across Europe. EMSA is committed to ensuring the highest standards of healthcare and medical education in a united Europe by empowering medical students to advocate health in all policies, excellence in medical research, inter-professional healthcare education and the protection of human rights across Europe.