According to the UN health agency, the tobacco industry’s approach has resulted in increased use of e-cigarettes, with nine out of 10 smokers starting before the age of 18 – and some as early as 11.
“Considering that children spend nearly one-third of their waking hours in school, and much of the peer pressure they encounter occurs within these educational environments, schools play a pivotal role,” WHO said.
Although smoking has continued to decline among European teens, WHO reported that there has been a rise in novel and emerging tobacco and nicotine products – including electronic cigarettes.
“If we do not take urgent action now, we risk seeing the next generation of tobacco and nicotine users recruited through tobacco industries’ unethical practices,” said Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, Regional Director for WHO European Region.
“Whether sitting in class, playing games outside or waiting at the school bus stop, we must protect young people from deadly second-hand smoke and toxic e-cigarette emissions as well as ads promoting these products,” said Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion.
Speaking to journalists in Geneva, WHO medical officer Dr Kerstin Schotte warned that tobacco kills “eight million people every year, or one person every four seconds”.
Meanwhile, 1.3 million people who die from tobacco smoke don’t even use the product themselves but breathe in second-hand smoke.
Dr Schotte noted that “half of the world’s children breathe tobacco polluted air and as a consequence, 51,000 children die every year due to exposure to tobacco smoke”.