Home News “Stop sliding into my DMs!”: SA youth challenge Big Tobacco on World No Tobacco Day 2024

“Stop sliding into my DMs!”: SA youth challenge Big Tobacco on World No Tobacco Day 2024

Leading up to World No Tobacco Day 31 May 2024, the Protect our Next partnership, representing South Africa’s leading health and community organisations, is taking a bold stand to protect young people from the predatory tactics of the tobacco and e-cigarette industries. Building on the overall theme of protecting children from tobacco industry interference, this year’s campaign theme, “Stop sliding into my DMs,” highlights the stealthy and aggressive methods used by Big Tobacco to infiltrate the lives of youth through social media, digital platforms, influencers and advertising. The campaign aims to raise awareness and empower the next generation to resist and fight back against these deceptive practices.

“We’re launching our World No Tobacco Day campaign with a powerful message leveraging the voices of young changemakers in South Africa, as we unite to demand an end to the targeted and pervasive marketing tactics of the tobacco industry. From eye-catching social media reels to expressive memes, our youth are pushing back, saying enough is enough!” says Zanele Mthembu, convenor of Protect our Next. 

The campaign includes a competition for youth to show their reactions to the aggressive marketing of Big Tobacco and the impact it has through social media. Lesego Mateme from the South African Tobacco Free Youth Forum (SATFYF) explains, “We’re talking to youth in the social language that we use. We react to everything in particular ways on social media, and we wanted to tap into that to have a powerful impact.”

On the ground, Protect our Next is delivering tailored school programme activities, driving awareness and gathering reactions through interactive edutainment sessions called Tobacco-free Assemblies. School communities are asked to react to Big Tobacco in photo booths. The visual results will be presented to the Department for Health. 

“Protect our Next is educating schools and school communities about the tobacco industry marketing tactics targeted at children,” says Cart Agency’s Sivu Bukula, who runs the national Protect Our Next Schools Ambassador Programme. “This campaign is about empowering the youth to take a stand as active participants in the fight against Big Tobacco. By amplifying their voices, we aim to create a ripple effect that drives awareness and sparks conversations among the youth.”

“Through our work engaging with schools on tobacco industry targeting and tactics, it is evident that education is needed on tobacco and e-cigarettes across the school communities. Big Tobacco must be blocked. CANSA fully supports the Protect Our Next initiatives and the youth campaigns for World No Tobacco Day and throughout the year,” says Lorraine Govender, National Manager, Health Programmes for CANSA.

Tobacco Industry tactics to target youth

Research from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) shows the prevalence of tobacco use among adolescents is on the rise, driven by aggressive youth-orientated marketing and easy access to both traditional and electronic cigarettes.    The SAMRC National University Study Report shows that about 1 in 4 university students aged 18 to 24 years report current use of e-cigarettes, and almost 1 in 3 students report current hookah smoking.  The study further indicates significant exposure to advertising and marketing of these products among young people. Overall, 77.8% were exposed to any advertisement, marketing, and promotion of e-cigarettes.

Students are particularly vulnerable to marketing tactics, says Dr. Catherine Egbe,  Senior Specialist Scientist in the MASTRU at SAMRC.  “We found that students exposed to any form of advertisement, marketing and promotion were almost three times more likely to be currently using e-cigarettes or hookah compared to those not exposed.” Many of the advertisement and marketing tactics reported by participants using hookah are illegal under the current law, while e-cigarette marketing has yet to be regulated in the country.

Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of the NCAS and Head of the School of Health Systems and Public Health at the University of Pretoria, has documented how tobacco retailers are often strategically located near schools. “This proximity increases the likelihood of children being exposed to tobacco marketing and e-cigarette marketing, and facilitates easier access to these products. Early exposure to tobacco marketing contributes to long-term addiction, increasing the likelihood of starting to smoke.”

Studies show socio-economic factors influence tobacco use among young people. Lower-income youths are particularly vulnerable to targeted marketing due to price promotions and accessibility, Ayo-Yusuf says.  Research further indicates a significant presence of tobacco and e-cigarette advertising on social media platforms. “These ads often feature lifestyle imagery and influencer endorsements, making smoking and vaping appear fashionable and socially acceptable among youths.”

Egbe highlights the dangers of flavoured tobacco products, specifically designed to attract youth with flavours like fruit and candy. “Flavoured tobacco products mask the harshness of tobacco and make it more attractive to first-time users, leading to higher rates of addiction. Flavoured e-cigarettes and hookahs can also serve as entry points for non-smokers, Egbe explains. “Many youths perceive these products as less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which can lead to increased experimentation and regular use.” 

Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa and a co-author of a policy brief on the harms of tobacco and electronic devices published by the World Heart Federation says that despite the tobacco industry’s tactics to influence young people to smoke and vape, we should not underestimate the power of self-empowerment amongst our youth. “As our younger generation becomes more educated and understands at a deeper level the harm that tobacco products pose to their health and well-being, they are sure to create a new wave of positive influence to help their peers stop using harmful substances. Positive behaviour change is within our reach and as advocates in the Protect our Next space, we will persevere in protecting young people across South Africa.”

The Protect Our Next partnership, which includes NCAS, the SAMRC, SATFYF, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), and the Africa Centre For Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research (ATIM), calls for several measures to stop Big Tobacco targeting young people.  These measures include higher taxes on tobacco and vape products to make them less affordable, and robust public awareness campaigns to educate youth.

Further critical measures supported by the organisations are captured in the proposed Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Control Bill, which is still pending approval by Parliament. Importantly, all measures will apply to both tobacco products and electronic delivery systems, regulating products such as e-cigarettes and related products for the first time.

These include:

  • Expanded smoke-free zones: Enforcing 100% smoke-free policies in public spaces and some private spaces, including cars carrying children under 12 and areas in which children are cared for, will better protect people from secondhand smoke. 
  • Stricter advertising regulations: Comprehensive bans on tobacco and e-cigarette advertising, promotion, and sponsorship targeting youth across all media and online platforms, including point-of-sale advertising and social media. 
  • Plain packaging with graphic health warnings: The Bill provides for plain packaging, replacing all branding, logos, and promotional information with graphic health warnings. This strips away the glamour of branded packaging designs that often attract young consumers.
  • Prohibition of flavoured products: The Bill empowers the Minister to regulate the contents of tobacco products and electronic delivery systems, including characterising flavours such as fruit, Menthol, mint, and candy which are enticing to younger demographics. 
  • Ban on cigarette and e-cigarette sales through vending machines: Vending machines present an easy, unmonitored opportunity for underage individuals to purchase tobacco products. 
  • Stricter retail regulations: The Bill introduces stringent regulations on the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. It prohibits the sale of these products at or near educational institutions, aiming to reduce the availability and visibility of tobacco products in youth-centric environments. 
  • Restrictions on online sales: Recognising the growing trend of online tobacco sales, the Bill includes provisions to regulate and restrict the sale of tobacco products and e-cigarettes through e-commerce platforms. 
  • Investment in public campaigns highlighting the harms of tobacco-related products.

The Protect Our Next partnership strongly supports this Bill, advocating for its swift passage and rigorous enforcement, says Ayo-Yusuf. “These measures will collectively create a healthier environment where the younger generation is less likely to initiate and maintain tobacco or e-cigarette use. As we mark World No Tobacco Day 2024, we must take decisive action to protect our next generation. We can create a healthier future by standing together and advocating for stronger regulations.”

For more information on how to get involved, visit Protect Our Next.

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