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World No Tobacco Day 31 May 2020

„ Protecting youth from industry manipulation and preventing them from tobacco and nicotine use

„If your product killed 8 million people each year, you’d also target a new generation“

This year the theme of World No Tobacco Day 2020 is protection of younger generations, protecting them from the campaigns of the tobacco industry to obtain new consumers of their products. As the tobacco industry is increasingly targeting young people as an emerging and vulnerable market for its addictive products, this is a pressing issue and a challenge for tobacco control policymakers in every country.

In Serbia, 11% of youth 13 to 15 years of age smokes cigarettes, and 36.8% have smoked at least once in the life. Additionally, 9% of youth uses waterpipe, and at least once in their life used it 14.5%. Among older high school students these percentages are higher, 16.6% of them use waterpipe, and 29.3% smoked at least once in their life. Moreover, youth in Serbia uses electronic cigarettes, 6.2% regularly and 21.6% have used it at least once in their life, double than adults (10.7%) . In all above-mentioned products boys and girls smoke similarly.

The most used tactics to manipulate young people is to make tobacco products more appealing, particularly via packaging or branding. This has been especially evident in the recent explosion of interest in e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products. One of the most significant innovations by the industry involves its marketing strategies, tobacco companies are turning more and more to social media influencers to market these dangerous products.

Even during the pandemic of COVID-19 tobacco industry has continued to promote and marketing its products. In many countries it acted under social responsibility and donated ventilators and other personal protective equipment in many countries, such as in Greece, Brazil, Georgia, Turkey, Bangladesh, etc. Tobacco industry lobbied among governments to exempt the tobacco retails from closing during the lockdown (Italy, Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, Switzerland).  It was also published in many media that British American Tobacco has been working on the vaccine against the coronavirus using nicotine. Tobacco industry even used research to prove that smokers were less likely to have more severe COVID-19 infection; however, these articles were published in journals with no peer-review, no statement of possible conflict of interest, on small number of incorrectly selected patients, etc.

World No Tobacco Day 2020 will promote counter-campaign to demonstrate how young people can be empowered to take control of their health and reject tobacco addiction.

Srmena Krstev, MD, PhD