Each year, eight million people die due to tobacco-related illnesses, making it one of the world’s leading causes of death.
Rabat – Since 1987, the World Health Organization (WHO) has marked May 31 as “World No Tobacco Day,” an opportunity to educate people about the damaging effects of tobacco and industry’s techniques to reel people into the hazardous addiction. Morocco is one of many countries worldwide joining the campaign for an end to tobacco use.
The designated day serves to draw global attention to the health hazards caused by tobacco and the number of preventable deaths it causes. Each year, eight million people die due to tobacco-related illnesses, making it one of the world’s leading causes of death.
According to a 2017-2018 survey from Morocco’s Ministry of Health, which sampled 5,429 people, at least 13.4% of the Moroccan population uses some form of tobacco. The number of men using tobacco is significantly higher than women, who account for only 2% of users within the country.
The ministry’s reports reveal that 4% of middle school students are using tobacco, while the majority of smokers in Morocco are aged 33 and older.
As awareness increases about the health hazards of the substance and as more businesses and institutions are limiting the spaces where smoking is allowed, numbers of tobacco users have decreased over the years.
However, tobacco companies have remained determined amid industry declines and battles against the health statistics that threaten to thin out their profits. Over the years, new products have emerged within the industry and advertising techniques have diligently kept up with times in an effort to appeal to new generations.
This year, WHO aims to focus its attention on protecting youth from tobacco companies specifically targeting young people in advertising campaigns.
“Educating youth is vital because nearly 9 out of 10 smokers start before age 18. We want to provide young people with the knowledge to speak out against tobacco industry manipulation,” said Director of Health Promotion at WHO Rudiger Krech.
WHO explains that some of the most popular ways the tobacco industry appeals to young people are through social media platforms with paid influencers, product placement on television shows and movies, and the distribution of free samples at popular events.
Another controversial way that the industry has reached the lungs and wallets of younger generations is through the invention and promotion of smokeless tobacco, shisha, and e-cigarettes.
WHO is calling for an end to the exploitation of children and young people, asking all sectors to help stop the promotion of products by rejecting sponsorship, divesting in the tobacco industry, and banning all forms of tobacco-related advertisements.
The Moroccan national program to combat smoking sees promise in the fact that approximately three-quarters of all smokers reported a desire to quit the drug. In 2018, the Moroccan Company of Tobacco (SMT) raised the domestic consumption tax on cigarettes, a move pushed by the government. According to the UN, raising the price of tobacco and taxing it has proven to be one of the most effective measures to help reduce consumption.
Although peer-reviewed studies have not yet been published, medical experts suggest that smoking may increase the severity of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. Still, tobacco companies have lobbied for their products to be listed as “essential” during the global pandemic and have even gone as far as offering free branded masks delivered to people’s homes during lockdowns.
WHO has taken to social media to spread their campaign and engage young people in the fight against tobacco. The UN agency created the hashtag #TobaccoExposed and invited social media users to spread the news about the risks of using tobacco on Tik Tok, Instagram, YouTube, and even Tinder.