Big Tobacco is denying children and young people the right to be tobacco-free, says Union paper

“The denial of children’s rights is at the heart of the tobacco industry’s interference in health policies,” says Anne Jones, Tobacco Control Advisor for The Union, in an article released prior to World No Tobacco Day, 31 May, in the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease.

In this article, titled How Big Tobacco uses disruptive tactics to deny child rights to be tobacco-free, analysis reveals that the tobacco industry interferes with interventions to protect children by expanding its use of allied front groups, flooding markets with novel products and disrupting tobacco control policies.

“By underutilising child rights, we are helping to normalise the unethical conduct of an industry that thrives on addicting children,” says Jones. “By not acting to stop industry interference in child health, we are allowing the industry and its shareholders to control the child health agenda when the measurable solutions we have in tobacco control are achievable, impactful and sustainable.”

The industry uses many tactics to target children, through aggressive social media campaigns and celebrity influencers, and with over 15,000 flavours, many of which are dessert or candy flavoured and attract children and adolescents.

At the same time, many tobacco and nicotine companies misleadingly present themselves as caring about the welfare of children through corporate social responsibility activities. The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, for example, is promoting itself as the solution to the tobacco epidemic, while its sole funder, Philip Morris International, last year sold 750 billion cigarettes.

With around 38 million young people aged 13-15 already using tobacco in its many forms, the specific targeting of youth by the tobacco industry must be addressed immediately.

 “To combat this approach, stakeholders need to reclaim the child health agenda,” says Jones. “A variety of existing mechanisms can be used to develop more integrated and policy coherent reporting processes for protecting current and future generations of children.”

There is an urgent need for Parties and civil society to do more to protect children by making use of existing treaties and conventions. A Child Rights and Tobacco factsheet – produced alongside the article and intended as a practical tool for organisations working to protect the rights of children from the harms of tobacco and nicotine – sets out six practical measures to accelerate progress to protect child rights. These include: Forming a coalition of stakeholders to develop a regular status report on children and tobacco with recommendations for policy makers; and exposing industry interference in denying children a tobacco-free future with regular media reports, among others.

Globally huge progress has been made in reducing tobacco control in recent years, and strong mechanisms are already in place which have the capability to protect children’s right to health, such as the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

But with so many young people still using tobacco, with thousands of children exposed to dangerous second-hand smoke, and with the widespread illegal use of child labour in growing and selling tobacco – more must be done to protect future generations from the scourge of tobacco.

The article 'How Big Tobacco uses disruptive tactics to deny child rights to be tobacco-free' and the Child Rights and Tobacco factsheet were released in advance of World No Tobacco Day, which focuses on the tobacco industry’s targeting of a new generation of young people with cigarettes and novel tobacco products.