31 May 2008
New Delhi, India
By Kounteya Sinha
A recent Indo–US study, conducted in Delhi and Tamil Nadu which included 11,642 sixth and eighth graders, found that nearly 50% of the kids had seen and remembered a tobacco advertisement.
Over 490 of the students surveyed from 32 schools had a favourite tobacco ad while 238 of them could recall a brand name. Current use of tobacco was five times lower among students who had not watched tobacco promotions.
According to the study, published in the May issue of the ‘American Journal of Health Behavior’, which shows a clear connection between exposure to surrogate tobacco ads and consumption, cigarette companies are now trying to tap the youngest population by falsely associating use of tobacco products with qualities such as glamour, energy and sex appeal. This finding has serious implications for India, 51% of whose population is below the age of 25.
Monika Arora, director of Hriday and one of the researchers, told TOI that event sponsorships and lifestyle stores named after tobacco products were slipping through the cracks of the law in India which banned tobacco ads in 2004.
The threat has now made the WHO focus this year’s ‘World No Tobacco Day’ on May 31 on the sophisticated marketing campaigns of tobacco companies to attract the young.
“This study provides solid evidence that tobacco advertising and promotion are associated with tobacco use among urban youth. Smoking initiation largely occurs before 18 years and this study highlights that younger adolescents are more vulnerable. Therefore, the government needs to enforce a comprehensive ban on tobacco ads”, Arora said.
The study’s principal investigator Cheryl Perry, from the University of Texas School of Public Health, said, “As India becomes more westernised, more teens will use tobacco. The sixth graders as a group are already thinking that smoking is cool.”
Meanwhile, WHO on Friday urged governments to protect the world’s 1.8 billion young people by imposing a ban on all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Studies have shown that almost a quarter of smokers in south–east Asia start using tobacco before the age of 10. “In many countries, over 50% of minors have purchased tobacco products from stores and 70% have never been refused due to their age. Tobacco use among girl students is on the rise. It is clearly proven that exposure to direct and indirect advertising leads to an increase in tobacco use among young people”, said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO regional director for south–east Asia.