An anti-smoking charity boss has issued a warning over tobacco companies using social media to target young people.
Sheila Duffy, chief executive of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Scotland, suggested online platforms were being used to “reach out” to Scotland’s youth, which could potentially lead to a new generation of smokers.
However, today, on World No Tobacco Day, Sheila added she is hopeful that young people are making healthier choices and many choose to steer clear of tobacco products.
“I think generally young people these days are growing up and choosing to stay free of tobacco and smoking,” she said.
“However, we have to watch the tobacco companies because some are using social media to reach out to a new generation.
“They are using a range of products including alternative tobacco products, and they are using the kind of marketing and imagery they used for cigarettes and tobacco.
“That is really dangerous because it sets up a nicotine habit, possibly addiction and allows them to keep marketing to these people as they grow up.”
According to ASH Scotland, two-thirds of adult smokers in the UK say they started smoking before the age of 18, while two-fifths say they began before 16.
In a bid to further deter young people from smoking, the legal age for buying cigarettes in Scotland was raised from 16 to 18 in September 2008.
Pushing anti-tobacco back to the top of the agenda
As well as raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco products, the Scottish Government has also introduced new laws to protect children from second-hand smoke, and is aiming to make the country a tobacco free generation by 2034.
Sheila, who was appointed the position of ASH Scotland’s chief executive in 2008, stressed the push on anti-tobacco must continue despite the pandemic.
She said: “The pandemic has really sucked up all the energy and resources, but tobacco continues to be a huge problem and the death rate is massive every year.
“Smoking affects finances, health and people’s loved ones. We really need to push smoking back up to the top of the agenda. We need to act.
“In Scotland there’s still plenty of work to do. Tobacco is not as visible in shops now but it still looks like a normal thing to be buying with bread and milk. It’s actually lethal.
“It creates all kinds of health problems but people don’t see that because it doesn’t have an immediate effect.
“Scotland has been brave and strong in restricting this product and creating healthier environments, and we need that to continue.”
To quit or not to quit?
A review by the World Heath Organisation (WHO) found that smoking could be associated with an increased risk of death in people who need hospital treatment for Covid-19.
NHS Grampian say “anecdotal feedback” from the region suggested many people were motivated to quit smoking throughout the pandemic due to the risks linked to contracting coronavirus.
However, for other smokers, the pandemic cause too much stress and upset leaving them feeling like they were unable to quit.
What are the health risks of smoking?
- It causes around 7 out of every 10 cases of lung cancer (70%). It also causes cancer in many other parts of the body.
- Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing your risk of developing conditions such as; coronary heart disease, a heart attack, strokes, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) or cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).
- Smoking also damages your lungs, leading to conditions such as; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Breathing in secondhand smoke, also known as passive smoking, increases your risk of getting the same health conditions as smokers.
An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “Anecdotal feedback from smokers has been for some the pandemic was a time to quit, with fear of Covid-19 and the respiratory effects of smoking being a driver. Also some people were not as able to nip out and get cigarettes etc.
“However, for some it just wasn’t the right time to think about quitting due to the stress of the changing world and their personal circumstances and smoking being a reliever of stress for them.”
Sheila added that while smoking may feel like a stress reliever to some, it is in fact a “false friend”.
“Smoking doesn’t help your stress levels, it actually worsens mental health – it’s a false friend to people that way,” she said.
“People who manage to quit smoking or have never smoked tend to have better mental health wellbeing than those who do smoke.”
Sheila added: “But you can’t blame smokers for using tobacco because they often get pulled into smoking when they are likely young, and formed the habit or became addicted when they didn’t understand the health implications it could have on their lives.”
Smokers looking to quit can seek support by calling the NHS Grampian Healthline on 08085 20 20 30.
Support will be provided over the phone, or people can visit their local pharmacy.