Thirty-seven million children worldwide use tobacco, estimates report

04 June 2024

The World Health Organization (WHO) and STOP, a global tobacco industry watchdog, have released the results of their analysis of global youth nicotine addiction.

The report - ‘Hooking the next generation’ - highlights how the tobacco and nicotine industry designs products, implements marketing campaigns and works to shape policy environments to help them addict the world’s youth.

This was done as part of WHO’s World No Tobacco Day campaign on May 31, 2024, during which WHO amplified the voices of young people who have called on governments to protect them from the tobacco and nicotine industry.

The report shows that globally, an estimated 37m children (aged 13–15 years) use tobacco, and in many countries, the rate of e-cigarette use among adolescents exceeds that of adults.

In the WHO European Region, 20 per cent of 15-year-olds surveyed reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.

Despite significant progress in reducing tobacco use, WHO said the emergence of e-cigarettes and other new tobacco and nicotine products presents a grave threat to youth and tobacco control.

Studies demonstrate that e-cigarette use increases conventional cigarette use, particularly among non-smoking youth, by nearly three times.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said, "History is repeating, as the tobacco industry tries to sell the same nicotine to our children in different packaging. These industries are actively targeting schools, children and young people with new products that are essentially a candy-flavoured trap. How can they talk about harm reduction when they are marketing these dangerous, highly addictive products to children?”

These industries continue to market their products to young people with enticing flavours like candy and fruit. Research in the United States of America found that more than 70 per cent of youth e-cigarette users would quit if the products were only available in tobacco flavour.

Ruediger Krech, WHO director of health promotion, commented, "These industries are intentionally designing products and utilising marketing strategies that appeal directly to children. The use of child-friendly flavours like cotton candy and bubblegum, combined with sleek and colourful designs that resemble toys, is a blatant attempt to addict young people to these harmful products."

These deceptive tactics highlight the urgent need for strong regulations to protect young people from a lifetime of harmful dependence.

WHO urges governments to protect young people from the uptake of tobacco, e-cigarettes and other nicotine products by banning or tightly regulating these products.

WHO recommendations include creating 100 per cent smoke-free indoor public places, banning flavoured e-cigarettes, banning marketing, advertising, and promotion, raising taxes, increasing public awareness of the industry's deceptive tactics, and supporting youth-led education and awareness initiatives.

Jorge Alday, director of STOP at Vital Strategies, said, “Addicted youth represent a lifetime of profits to the industry. That’s why the industry aggressively lobbies to create an environment that makes it cheap, attractive and easy for youth to get hooked. If policymakers don’t act, current and future generations may be facing a new wave of harms, characterised by addiction to and use of many tobacco and nicotine products, including cigarettes.”

WHO said if governments, public health organisations, civil society, and empowered youth worked together, they could create a world where the next generation is free from the dangers of tobacco and nicotine addiction.