Despite the government’s efforts to entice the public to abandon smoking, the trend seems evasive with the recent World Health Organisation (WHO) studies showing that the youths are most vulnerable.
Recent studies have shown that the vast majority of smokers begin using tobacco products well before they reach the age of 18 years.
It is predicted the current pattern, if not nipped in the bud, would result in deaths of close to 250 million children and young people, most of whom would be from the developing countries.
“It is the advertising and other marketing strategies by tobacco companies that lead to experimentation in tobacco use by young people who, in the process, run the risk of becoming regular users of tobacco products,” said the Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Gladys Kokorwe.
Speaking in Mahalapye on the world No Tobacco Day commemoration on Friday, Kokorwe said the tobacco industry is working tirelessly to attract young and potentially life-long tobacco users.
“It is the imperative of our times that we should come with comprehensive tobacco control strategies if we are to win the war against this evil industry,” she said. “We should come up with effective interventions which can manifestly demonstrate to the youths the health hazards presented to tobacco users their friends, families and to the air they breathe.”
Kokorwe said tobacco continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the world.
She insisted tobacco is the only legal consumer product that kills one third to fifty percent of its users with its victims on average dying 15 years prematurely.
“It is a self-imposed danger and not a luxury product as the tobacco industry has so far successfully portrayed it to be. It is, therefore, crucial that we should leave no stone unturned in our efforts to protect ourselves against the dangers posed by smoking and other forms of tobacco use.”
Adds Dr Owen Kaluwa of the Botswana WHO office, “Most people start smoking before the age of 18 and almost a quarter of these individuals begin using tobacco before the age of 10. The younger children are when they first try smoking, the more likely they are to become regular tobacco users and the less they are to quit.”
Young people, he said, underestimate the risk of becoming addicted to nicotine and the tragic health consequences that can follow.
The World Health Organisation and, indeed the government of Botswana, believe tobacco advertising is the root of this entire problem.
Insists Kaluwa, “The more exposed to tobacco advertising young people are, the more likely they are to use tobacco. It is clearly proven that exposure to direct and indirect pro-tobacco advertising, together with other marketing strategies, leads to an increase in experimentation by young people and, in turn to try the very risk of their becoming regular users of tobacco products.”
“A ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship is a powerful tool to protect youth and is one of the World Health Organisation’s strategies designed to combat marketing.”