Group launches campaign to stop tobacco companies targeting kids

A stop smoking campaign used to illustrate the story (Photo Credit: Health Advisor - ICICI Lombard)

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) has launched a new global campaign to stop the world’s largest tobacco companies from targeting kids and schools in countries around the world.

The campaign, “Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets,” takes aim at Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and other tobacco companies whose products are being systematically promoted and routinely sold to kids around schools, playgrounds and places frequented by young people.

Through crowdsourcing technology and social media, the campaign empowers citizens across the world to help document tobacco marketing that targets kids.

With just a mobile phone, citizens in any country can take a photo of tobacco advertising near schools, playgrounds, and other kid-friendly venues and upload the data to the campaign hub (http://www.takeapart.org/tiny-targets/). The information collected will be used to warn governments and spur them to ban all tobacco marketing.

The campaign launch follows an investigative report by The Guardian UK which exposed how Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco are aggressively marketing cigarettes and other tobacco products near primary and secondary schools in more than 22 countries.

Based on data collected by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and non-governmental organizations, the story shines a spotlight on a key tactic tobacco companies use to target children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

According to The Guardian, “School children around the world are being exposed on a daily basis to cigarette advertising and promotions by a tobacco industry that needs to recruit the young to maintain its vast profits.”

The campaign also came months after a report by the Nigerian Tobacco Control Research Group which accused tobacco companies in the country of using new strategies to target the younger generation.

The tobacco industry denied the accusation.

But according to the CTFK, tobacco industry’s tactics are similar in countries spanning the globe. They include large advertisements, promotions for cheap and even free tobacco products, and high-visibility product placements by stores, street vendors, kiosks and other retailers surrounding schools.

Tobacco products, advertisements, and branding are often visible from inside schools or right outside school entrances, making it impossible for kids to avoid them.

“The consistent presence of Philip Morris and British American Tobacco brands prominently displayed and sold next to elementary schools, in country after country, cannot be a coincidence,” said Matthew Myers, CTFK’s president.

“This is clear evidence that these giant tobacco companies are targeting young children near their schools, often in poor countries where laws are weak and the companies think they can get away with this despicable behaviour.

“These companies’ actions show why they can’t be taken seriously when they claim to be responsible entities that are helping to solve the tobacco problem. The targeting of kids near schools leaves no doubt that they’re the main cause of the problem, not the solution.

“Through our new campaign, concerned individuals around the world can take action and shine a light on this tactic by Big Tobacco so that governments, advocates and consumers can stop this deadly activity,” Mr. Myers added.

Last week, the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, launched a $20 million campaign fund to aggressively monitor deceptive tobacco industry tactics and practices to undermine public health.

Joanna Cohen, Director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University said their research across several countries found similar patterns of tobacco advertisements around schools and places frequented by young people.

“The findings of these reports demonstrate both the magnitude of this problem and the need for strict laws that ban tobacco advertising.”


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