Is the tobacco industry succeeding?

30 May 2024

By Siti Hajar Badzlin Ghazali, Malaysia Gazette 

WORLD No Tobacco Day is celebrated every year on May 31st with the aim of raising awareness about the dangers of tobacco and encouraging efforts to reduce its use worldwide. However, the question arises: is this celebration truly beneficial to anti-tobacco advocates, or is it just an opportunity for the tobacco industry to promote itself?

Anti-tobacco advocates have long been working to reduce tobacco use through various means. They conduct awareness campaigns, lobby for stricter laws, and provide support to those who want to quit smoking. World No Tobacco Day provides an opportunity for these advocates to highlight their efforts and draw public attention to the dangers of tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Various education and awareness programs are conducted in schools and communities to educate the public, especially the youth, about the risks of smoking.

One such programs is called HEBAT, an acronym for ‘Henti, Elak, Basmi Asap Tembakau’, established in 2022. Under the guidance of Assoc. Prof Dr Nur Amani Ahmad Tajuddin, a group of volunteers consisting of Universiti Malaya (UM) students actively visits secondary schools in Klang Valley to increase the awareness of the dangers associated with smoking and vaping.

Nevertheless, the tobacco industry also tries to take advantage of the opportunity to serve its interests. Tobacco companies often use cunning marketing tactics to attract consumers, especially the youth. They introduce new tobacco products that are claimed to be ‘less harmful’, such as electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products, in hopes of attracting new users.

An article published by STOP, a network of academic and public health organizations operating globally as part of the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, documented several concerning practices by tobacco companies. British American Tobacco (BAT) hired young models and influencers aged 21 and 24 to promote its heated tobacco product glo on social media, breaking its own policy of not using models under 25. Japan Tobacco International (JTI) hosted music events featuring the hashtag #FreedomMusic and slogan “Stay True, Stay Free” to promote its Winston cigarettes.

Attendees were bombarded with Winston branding and promotions, exploiting the allure of nonconformity to attract youth. Additionally, BAT used youth-oriented hashtags like #Oscars2019 and #londonfashionweek to promote its Vype e-cigarette on social media, inserting itself into mainstream pop culture discussions to reach young consumers. These tactics demonstrate how tobacco companies deliberately design their marketing to exploit young people's interests and get them addicted to their products, despite the devastating health consequences.

In Malaysia, the tobacco industry has scored a major victory with the exclusion of the ‘generational endgame’ element from the Tobacco Control Act passed in Parliament recently. This element, which aimed to prevent the younger generation born after 2007 from starting smoking, was not included in the final law. This gives the tobacco industry the opportunity to continue targeting the youth, ensuring the sustainability of their customer base in the future.

The exclusion of the ‘generational endgame’ element significantly impacts the tobacco industry and anti-tobacco advocates. For the industry, this means they can still attract customers from the younger generation, ensuring their sustainability and profitability. They can continue to use marketing tactics that target teenagers, such as promoting electronic cigarettes and other products seen as ‘safer.’ Moreover, it also attracts the interest of influencers in promoting new-faced cigarettes and making them the standard in daily life.

For anti-tobacco advocates, this is a major setback. Their efforts to protect the younger generation from the dangers of tobacco become more difficult without strong laws to support them. They need to work harder to educate and raise awareness among teenagers and the public about the risks of tobacco. One such effort is the SEGARUN event to be held on June 2nd, jointly organised by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (KPWKM), and MyWATCH.

There will be various activities conducted at the Dataran DBKL Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur, the whole day. In conjunction with the World No Tobacco Day, the event used “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference” as the theme, and is open to everyone. Interested participants may join by registering at for free.

In conclusion, World No Tobacco Day is an important time for us to reflect and raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco and encourage efforts to quit smoking. With the right focus, it can be a celebration for anti-tobacco advocates, rather than a victory for the tobacco industry. Through cooperation and community support, we can shape a healthier and tobacco-free future.

Siti-Hajar-150x150The author is a final year biomedical science student at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya. She is also a member of Parlimen Belia for Putrajaya, and a leading volunteer for the HEBAT program.