03 August 2022 11:39
In Peru, adolescents start smoking, on average, between the ages of 12 and 13. They can find cigarettes quite easily: in tobacconists, supermarkets, but also at distributors or in bodega (minimarket) a few meters from the school. The packages are often displayed near the counter, under lollipops and sodas, among chewing gum, candy and chocolate bars. And they are usually noticeable, because they are marked by advertising posters, illuminated signs and discount announcements.
It shouldn’t be that way. An investigation by the Peruvian website Ojo Público published in June explains that the law restricts the promotion of tobacco products in the vicinity of schools and prohibits their sale to minors. The problem is that the law is full of flaws, and therefore easily circumvented.
Peru does not produce tobacco, but imports it mainly from Chile and Mexico. Even if consumption is lower than in other countries, the market is still huge: in the last five years, the country has spent 86 million dollars on six and a half tons of cigarettes and similar products. The pandemic slowed this trade in 2020 and 2021, when imports fell by more than half compared to 2019, but in the first quarter of 2022 the sector recovered.
Given that the number of smokers among adults is decreasing, while that among the very young remains more or less the same, the case of Peru teaches a lot about the responsibility of companies and retailers in the initiation of boys and girls to cigarettes. The Global Youth Smoking Survey (Gyts), published in 2020, estimates that 6.4 percent of Peruvians aged 13 to 15 smoke regularly and 21.1 percent do so every now and then. Almost half of the former buy cigarettes in kiosks, in bodega or by street vendors, attracted by advertising on the shelves.
The tobacco industry uses advertising to create the perception that cigarette consumption is widespread and acceptable. These messages associate smoking with desirable qualities, such as popularity and charm. The aim is not to lose consumers, to encourage those who had stopped to resume and to hinder those who want to lose the habit. Above all, these messages serve to find new smokers to replace old ones, downplaying the health risks.
To attract the little ones, companies focus on aromas, which create the false feeling that smoking cigarettes with a less strong flavor is less harmful.
The risks, on the other hand, are many. Among the main harmful effects on children and adolescents, the World Health Organization (WHO) cites asthma, airway obstruction and lung damage, decreased physical performance and endurance. These diseases, the article adds, can then cause more serious ones, such as problems in brain development, lung tumors, strokes or heart attacks.
In addition to advertising, to attract the little ones, companies focus on flavors, which create the false feeling that smoking cigarettes with a less strong flavor is less harmful. This strategy is not new. “It is well known that teenagers like sweet tastes. Honey could be considered, ”reads a 1972 report from Brown & Williamson tobacco corporation, which distributed the Lucky Strike and Pall Mall brands until 2004. Philip Morris, which markets the Marlboro brand, recommended in a document 1992 the use of flavors such as melon, Coca-Cola, piña colada and orange. Flavors that generate “a strong curiosity, transversal to the two sexes; young adults up to thirty years of age have expressed the same level of interest ”.
Ojo Público reached out to both Philip Morris and British American Tobacco (Bat), which now owns the Lucky Strike and Pall Mall brands, to ask him some questions about these targeted tactics and their consequences. The first did not respond, the second did so through Claudia Linares, the BAT public relations manager for Peru. Linares made it clear that their products are for adults only, that they encourage stores to ask for identity cards from shoppers, and that they don’t market single cigarettes, only sealed packages. “We respect all laws”.
The laws are these: since 1991 in Peru it is forbidden to smoke in public places indoors; since 1997 tobacco products cannot be sold or sponsored in schools and hospitals and since 1998 it has been forbidden to sell these products to minors anywhere; Since 2006, posters advertising cigarettes are not allowed on the streets around a school (within a radius of five hundred meters), and more warnings on the damage to health caused by smoking can be read on the packaging. And finally, since 2010 it is not possible to sell packets with less than ten cigarettes.
Peru also signed the WHO Framework Convention to Fight Smoking in 2004, which recommends banning the advertising of cigarettes and similar products altogether. A 2017 analysis of the Instituto de efectividad clínica y sanitary (IECS), based in Buenos Aires, recalls that every year in Peru almost 17 thousand people die from causes related to the consumption of cigarettes and shows that, if the country had a law which completely prohibits tobacco advertising and promotion, could avoid more than five thousand deaths and save 873 million Peruvian sols (more than 220 million euros) in health care costs in a decade.
The WHO convention is binding, but almost twenty years later Lima has not yet translated its commitment into legislation, which has been hindered by companies. In recent times, several projects have been presented in parliament, but none have made it to the vote.
In Latin America, only Colombia and Mexico have laws banning cigarette advertising altogether, although there are still obstacles to their implementation.
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