The tobacco industry invests USD 9 billion every year to advertise its products targeting youngsters, with over 40 million children aged 13 to 15 years presently using nicotine items globally, the World Health Organization has warned.
The UN agency is focusing on spreading awareness among teenagers to mark World No Tobacco Day on Sunday.
"More than 40 million young people today aged 13-15, have already started to use tobacco," the WHO said, as it launched a kit for school students aged 13-17 to alert them about the marketing tactics of THE tobacco industry
"Every year the tobacco industry invests more than USD 9 billion to advertise its products. Increasingly, it is targeting young people with nicotine and tobacco products in a bid to replace the 8 million people that its products kill every year,” the agency said.
Even during a global pandemic, the tobacco and nicotine industry is pushing its products, the WHO said, adding that these addictive substances limit people's ability to fight coronavirus.
"Educating the youth is vital because nearly nine out of 10 smokers start before 18 years. We want to provide young people with the knowledge to speak out against tobacco industry manipulation," said Director for Health Promotion at WHO Ruediger Krech.
In a bid prevent addiction among 13 to 17-year-olds, the agency has highlighted commonly used tactics to watch out for.
It points out that smoking e-cigarettes and hookah pipes -- marketed as "safer" alternatives to conventional cigarettes -- is harmful, addictive, and increasing the risk of developing heart and lung disease.
The WHO also noted that the 15,000-odd flavours of tobacco items which are sold -- such as bubble-gum and candy -- are introduced in the market to attract youngsters who are likely to become serious nicotine-users later in life.
Marketing strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic have included the offer of free branded masks and home delivery service during quarantine.
The tobacco industry has also lobbied for its products to be listed as "essential", the health agency said.
With the view to reach maximum young people, the WHO has also launched the #TobaccoExposed challenge on youth online platform TikTok, and welcomed social media partnerships with other platforms including Pinterest and YouTube.
The WHO has also launched a classroom activities kit that puts the students in the shoes of the tobacco industry to make them aware of how the manipulative tactics used by the industry.
"Countries can protect children from industry exploitation by putting in place strict tobacco control laws, including regulating products like e-cigarettes that have already begun to hook a new generation of young people," the WHO said.