(Bangkok, 30 June 2023) The ASEAN region is home to 213 million youths, and ASEAN teens are increasingly being targeted by the tobacco industry as the next generation of nicotine addicts. In 2019, 14.1% of Filipino adolescents aged 13 to 15 years were already using electronic smoking devices (ESD), alongside 11% of Indonesian youths and 9.8% of Malaysian youths.
The ESD market in ASEAN was estimated to grow to USD 766 million this year, and the tobacco industry employs a host of tactics to lure unsuspecting youths into nicotine addiction. These tactics include marketing ESDs in a wide range of attractive forms, sizes, affordable prices, and fun and fruity flavors, and using social media to portray ESDs as lifestyle must-haves for the youth.
E-cigarettes sold in Cambodia (left), Indonesia (middle) and Lao PDR (right) take the form of children’s toys and snacks, hiding a sinister device behind a cute and fun facade and evading detection by parents, teachers, and authorities.
A study among US teens has shown that most e-cigarette users used flavored products, most commonly fruit, menthol/mint, candy, dessert, and other sweet flavors appealing to children. More than 15,000 e-liquid flavors are available in the market, and no studies establish the safety of these flavors when inhaled.
Most smokers who tried e-cigarettes to quit smoking have become dual users of both electronic and traditional cigarettes, increasing their risk of harm. The World Health Organization has consistently warned that electronic cigarettes are harmful to health.
ESDs are increasingly more affordable and, therefore, more accessible for the youth. In the Philippines, Philip Morris International launched its affordable HTP, BONDS, which costs less than USD 20 per device and less than USD 2 per pack of 20 heat sticks.
Social media (Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and others) is saturated with content featuring young people with their e-cigarettes and the tricks that they can do with them. A study revealed that Facebook and Instagram are being used to publish ESD ads targeted at the youth.
The message that ESDs are cool and hip is carried over through concerts, music and arts festivals, and other events sponsored by the tobacco industry. In some ASEAN countries, the tobacco industry has also sponsored scholarships and academic writing contests in a bid to normalize youth use of ESDs.
What can governments do to counter the tobacco industry’s aggressive market expansion and targeting of youth and children?
More than 45 countries have banned ESDs, including, in the ASEAN region, Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Singapore, and Thailand. Where bans are not feasible, the manufacture, marketing, sale, and use of ESDs should be very tightly restricted.
“The world cannot afford to commit the same mistake with e-cigarettes as it did with cigarettes. Everything possible should be done to prevent a new generation of nicotine addicts, even as we collectively strive to drive down tobacco use and achieve the tobacco endgame. SEATCA strongly encourages governments to ban ESDs and phase out cigarette sales to protect their youth against the tobacco industry’s deception and the harms of its dangerous products. Our youth deserve to live free from addiction and the tobacco industry’s lies,” said Dr Ulysses Dorotheo, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).
Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA
Email: email@example.com, Mobile: +639173124600
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- SEATCA Playlist: ENDS and HTPs Myths and Facts
- SEATCA Social Media Artcards on Ways to Quit the Tobacco Industry (ENDS and HTPs)
SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.