World No Tobacco Day – a time to act

World No Tobacco Day – a time to act

World No Tobacco Day – a time to act

Monday 31 May is World No-Tobacco Day. Each year since 1988, the World Health Organisation has sponsored World No Tobacco Day on 31 May to highlight the harms caused by tobacco use – over 5 million deaths each year from fatal and crippling heart attacks, strokes, cancers and lung diseases. Tobacco use is the second leading cause of death in the world, with only hypertension killing more people.

This year the focus is on harms of tobacco marketing to women and girls, as the theme is “Gender and tobacco with an emphasis on marketing to women”. The theme is especially relevant to the African continent where the major challenge is to maintain the current low levels of tobacco use among females. Tobacco marketing is eroding this status.

It is rare for an average teenager to go an entire day without being subjected to an inducement to smoke or snuff nicotine, a chemical most experts consider more addicting than illegal drugs.

Despite a ban on tobacco advertising, the industry continues to target youth – from cigarette ads on the sweet and chocolate counters in shops and cafes, to magazines showing fashion models smoking, to smoking scenes deliberately placed in the movies and in television programmes, to the Internet sites designed for youth, to cigarette parties. With over five million smokers dying every year, the tobacco industry knows that its future is bankrupt unless it can addict a new generation of youth to replace dead smokers.

Especially troubling is the rising prevalence of tobacco use among girls. A new WHO report, Women and health: today’s evidence, tomorrow’s agenda, points to evidence that tobacco advertising increasingly targets girls. Data from 151 countries show that about 7% of adolescent girls smoke cigarettes as opposed to 12% of adolescent boys. In some countries, almost as many girls smoke as boys.

South African situation

In South Africa about 10% of women and about 37% of men smoke cigarettes and among youth aged 12 to 16 years, about 22% of boys and 10% of girls had smoked a cigarette on at least one or more occasions in the previous 30 days. Women therefore represent a major marketing opportunity. The industry could quadruple cigarette sales if they could get women to smoke like men. Each year there are also about 44,400 deaths from cigarette smoking in South Africa with three times as many deaths among men as in women.

A key challenge is to maintain the low levels of cigarette smoking among women or else if “Women smoke like men they will die like men”. WHO regards a ban on tobacco advertising and promotions as a vital tool in protecting youth and especially girls from the clutches of the tobacco industry.

Eliminating addiction amongst youth is an admirable objective, but how?

Monday’s World No Tobacco Day should be dedicated to practical actions to remove as much pressure to use tobacco from women and girls as possible. Below are some practical steps that can be taken:

  • Tobacco users: On this day, WHO appeals to all those who smoke or use snuff to quit for at least 24 hours, as a first step to quitting for life.
  • Ex-smokers
  • Non-tobacco users: Help users who’ve quit and be kind to them.
  • Parents: Teach children the truth. Cigarettes, hookahs and snuff may appear to offer friendship and fun but all tobacco does is steal from you behind your back. It will steal your money, time and even your life. On World No Tobacco Day, stop and think what message your own use of tobacco is sending to the young people you know and meet.
  • Store owners: For just one day, 31 May, either take down or cover up all tobacco ads and products. Make 100% sure that no tobacco is sold to anyone under 18 years ever.
  • Television, movies and cinemas. Celebrate World No Tobacco Day by prominently displaying an anti-smoking ad or poster or logo.
  • Politicians, communities and law enforcers: Make sure the country’s tobacco control laws are respected and enforced.

Let’s make World No Tobacco Day a day on which we begin to change the world for the better.

World No Tobacco Day will be celebrated in SA with events around the country which will particularly involve school children.

Anyone needing help in quitting can obtain free help by calling the Tobacco or Health Information Line on 011 720 3145.

Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about any aspect of smoking and how to quit. Call us on the EWP number or email us at
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