According to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO), the tobacco industry is trying all kinds of tricks to get children addicted as young as possible. This includes marketing e-cigarettes in bright colors almost like toys, reported the WHO in Geneva. The situation in Europe is particularly worrying, said WHO department head Rüdiger Krech in Geneva. Sales restrictions would be of little use if young people could order the products on the Internet and the authorities did nothing to stop this.

Millions of minors are already addicted

According to WHO estimates, around 37 million teenagers between the ages of 13 and 15 already use tobacco. These include cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff. There are also millions who use e-cigarettes. They don’t contain tobacco, but they do contain nicotine, and are therefore addictive. Because e-cigarettes are sometimes expensive, many young people switch to tobacco products when they run out of money. In the WHO European region, 20 percent of 13 to 15 year olds now said they had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. 

Among the 16,000 flavors are ones like “chewing gum” and “candy,” which are clearly aimed at children. “History repeats itself: the tobacco industry is trying to sell our children the same nicotine in different packaging,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

WHO: Misleading advertising 

According to the WHO, tobacco companies’ promotion of e-cigarettes as a product that will help people get off tobacco is just a pretext. “How can they talk about harm reduction when they are advertising these dangerous, highly addictive products to children?” said Tedros. The WHO denounces advertisements in children’s colors and those with cartoon characters. In addition, influencers are recruited who would promote dangerous products as “cool” to their followers in return for payment. “The industry wants to get children addicted as young as possible so that they become lifelong consumers,” said Given Kapolyo, who organizes young people in Zambia who educate their own youth groups about harmful nicotine consumption.

What countries should do

The WHO is urging countries to impose greater restrictions on the use of tobacco and other nicotine products. These include a ban on multi-flavored e-cigarettes, advertising bans, higher taxes and 100 percent indoor smoking bans.