The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship” (TAPS). It’s a great theme, because comprehensive TAPS bans are powerful – they can reduce tobacco use by nearly 25 percent in developing countries. They also play a significant role in prevention. For example, in Australia, largely due to a 1992 ban on tobacco advertising, smoking among teens age 14-17 is remarkably low – 2.5 percent. Yet, in developing countries, tobacco control policies that prohibit tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are either non-existent or weak, allowing tobacco companies greater freedom to market directly and indirectly to consumers.
As cigarette sales stagnate or decrease in wealthier countries, tobacco use is accelerating in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco companies are in a race to maintain and increase their market share by attracting new customers, especially women and youth in the developing world. Many of these countries are growing in population and income, while education on tobacco’s harms remains relatively low – a combination that offers a promising new market for tobacco companies. Flavored cigarettes, female-centered branding, cheap prices, free samples, sales of single cigarettes and other marketing techniques are becoming commonplace in these countries, all to addict an untapped market.
Here are a few examples of what TAPS is trying to eliminate.
One billboard in Jakarta, which is sponsored by cigarette manufacturer Sampoerna, states: “Dying is better than leaving a friend. Sampoerna is a cool friend.” In China, schools sponsored by the tobacco industry carry slogans such as “genius comes from hard work – tobacco helps you become talented.” In Senegal, brightly painted and showy cigarette kiosks draw attention to and lure in new customers, where a pack of cigarettes costs approximately only about 80 cents.
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the first global health treaty, requires its 176 signatories to implement and enforce TAPS bans; however, many do not. Only 19 of the 176 countries party to the WHO FCTC, representing 6 percent of the world’s population, are fully protected by comprehensive TAPS bans. The tobacco industry recognizes the importance of its marketing as a driver of global tobacco use and actively tries to slow and subvert TAPS bans and other tobacco control policies through litigation and other means.
Tobacco use kills nearly six million people each year, and could rise to more than eight million worldwide by 2030 if no action is taken. It’s time to act.