No child dreams of starting to smoke or use snus. Yet, millions of children around the world are lured into nicotine addiction every year. It is hard for young people to see through the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing and resist pressure from friends, but society can help them not to be enticed into use of nicotine by introducing well thought-out political measures.
Widespread tobacco use is a fairly new phenomenon. It is only in the last 100 years that nicotine has been approved of as an everyday and popular drug. The proportion of the population that is dependent on nicotine varies between countries. In Sweden, for example, between 25 and 30 percent of the population is addicted to nicotine use.
Almost everyone who is unable to stop using nicotine products initiated their tobacco use as teenagers. One reason for this is that tobacco companies, with the help of massive advertising, have for many years succeeded in making use of their products to become a marker of group identity for teenagers. In addition, nicotine products have been and still are used by many young people to mark the transition to adulthood. It is not just about cigarettes but also about novel and emerging nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and snus that nowadays are available in several different forms in more and more countries.
Children see tobacco everywhere
In many countries, children see nicotine products, like any other consumer product, in shops, supermarkets and kiosks. There, the products are openly displayed in nicely designed packaging that arouses children’s curiosity. Both in their spare time and at school young people frequently see their friends use different kinds of nicotine products. Many people who have become addicted to nicotine say that they began using nicotine products because they found it difficult to resist peer pressure.
Businesses take advantage of social media to market their nicotine products. Influencers who have the power to affect children’s purchase decisions are paid by the tobacco industry to describe the new nicotine products as trendy. This kind of marketing is used to attract young people to try them, which may result in addiction to nicotine even though it is well-known that it has many hazardous effects on individuals and society.
Society has a duty to act
The burden of resisting both advertising and peer pressure should not be on children’s shoulders. Society must take up fight against the tobacco industry on behalf of children. One way to do so is for the government to legislate for the protection of children from being brought into contact with nicotine products. The World Health Organization has worked out the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to provide a response to the tobacco epidemic. The Convention has been signed by 168 countries.
Prohibiting all forms of tobacco advertising
Children who don’t see advertisements for nicotine products get less curious to try them. Bans on advertising such products also reduce social acceptability of using them.
Prohibition of condiments in all products
The regulations on adding flavors to tobacco vary worldwide, but the tobacco industry’s reason for using them is the same everywhere, on one hand that seasoning makes the products feel less dangerous, on the other that the threshold for children to try them becomes lower. Banning flavors in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, snus and other products containing nicotine reduces the risk of children becoming addicted.
Nicotine- and tobacco-free school hours
Due to peer pressure, many children try nicotine products for the first time when they are at school. Therefore, banning use of nicotine during school hours would protect them from being persuaded into using it. Many children have expressed the view that a law forbidding the use of nicotine during school-hours would help them to refrain from starting to smoke or use other nicotine products.
Classify and regulate new products as tobacco products
To protect children, all novel and emerging forms of nicotine products should be classified as and be subject to the same regulatory controls as other tobacco products. This is necessary since tobacco companies are constantly developing new ways to hook children on their products with the aim of getting them to use nicotine as a habit. Flexible legislation that also covers future nicotine products that are introduced into the market, would reduce the risk of children being addicted.