WHO urges ban on smoking and vaping in schools worldwide

According to the UN’s 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.

“Given that children spend almost a third of their waking hours in school, and much of the peer pressure they face occurs within these educational environments, schools play a central role.” WHO said.

Schools are in “a uniquely powerful position to play an important role in reducing children’s serious problem of smoking and other tobacco and nicotine use”.

The appeal of e-cigarettes

Although smoking has continued to decline among European teenagers, WHO reported that there has been an increase in new and new tobacco and nicotine products – including electronic cigarettes.

The UN agency pointed out that these products have been made more affordable for young people due to the sale of disposable cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which also typically lack health warnings.

“If we don’t act now, we risk seeing the next generation of tobacco and nicotine users being recruited through the unethical practices of the tobacco industry,” said Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, Regional Director for the WHO European Region.

Vaping involves heating a liquid and inhaling the aerosol into the lungs.

Vaping involves heating a liquid and inhaling the aerosol into the lungs.

New guidance

The warning comes as the WHO released two new publications to coincide with the return of children to school in many countries in the Global North: “Freedom from tobacco and nicotine: Guidance for schools,” and “Nicotine and tobacco-free schools toolbox”.

The launch also coincided with a warning last month from regulators in the US that companies must stop selling illegal e-cigarettes that appeal to youngsters by looking like school supplies, cartoon characters and even teddy bears.

“Whether we’re sitting in class, playing outside or waiting at the school bus stop, we need to protect young people from deadly second-hand smoke and toxic e-cigarettes, as well as ads promoting these products,” said Dr. Ruediger Krech, WHO Director of Health Promotion.

“It is deeply worrying that the tobacco industry still targets young people and makes huge profits, harming their health,” he continued.

Schools must be safe spaces for young people, where they are free from exposure to or pressure to use nicotine products. Creating a smoke- and nicotine-free environment in school environments is fundamental to helping prevent young people from taking up smoking”.

The WHO guides also highlight countries that have successfully implemented policies to support tobacco- and nicotine-free campuses. They include India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.

‘Whole school’ approach

WHO emphasized a “whole school” approach to creating nicotine- and tobacco-free campuses. There is a need for input from teachers, staff, students and parents, WHO stated.

The UN health agency’s documents include information on how to support students who want to quit, education campaigns, implementing policies and how to enforce them.

Advice for educators and politicians includes:

  • Ban on nicotine and tobacco products on school campuses
  • Prohibition on the sale of products near schools
  • Prohibition of direct and indirect advertisements and promotion of nicotine and tobacco products near classrooms
  • To refuse sponsorship or engagement with the tobacco and nicotine industry, for example for school projects.

Dangers of tobacco smoke

In a speech to journalists in Geneva, WHO doctor Dr. Kerstin Schotte that tobacco kills “eight million people every year, or one person every four seconds”.

Meanwhile, 1.3 million people who die from tobacco smoke do not even use the product themselves, but inhale second-hand smoke.

Dr. Schotte noted that “half of the world’s children breathe tobacco-polluted air, and as a result 51,000 children die each year due to exposure to tobacco smoke”.

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