World No Tobacco Day: Data to Empower Young People

The good news: In January 2024 the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that tobacco use rates are declining worldwide, down 11 percent from the year 2000. The bad news: Smoking still kills almost 8 million people a year, and the global youth tobacco rate has remained the same or increased in that time period. About 50 million young people ages 13-15 smoke cigarettes or use smokeless tobacco products, like pouches, water pipes and e-cigarettes. 

That age group is considered Generation Alpha, and research deems them the most socially conscious and progressive generation ever. They’re engaged in societal and environmental issues, and active in advocacy. They’re also extremely sophisticated, technologically savvy and aware of marketing tactics. Even so, the tobacco industry has strategically targeted them with campaigns featuring collaborations with social media influencers, music festivals and others; and by marketing products like e-cigarettes with candy and fruit flavors.

World No Tobacco Day

The 2024 World No Tobacco Day puts these young people front and center. This 26th annual campaign, “Protecting Children From Tobacco Industry Interference,” aims to raise awareness about these specific tactics, what’s being done to counteract them and to support and empower young people as they spread awareness and advocate for change.

In 2023, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids released a comprehensive report on this industry strategy. Among the findings:

  • Marketing content from major tobacco companies has reached more than 385 million people around the world; and
  • 40% of this audience are youth under the age of 25.  
  • Tactics include direct product marketing (companies are using at least 56 social media accounts in 45 countries); influencers; paid ads; sports brand collaborations; music and festival collaborations; arts and culture creators; and discounts, contests and giveaways.
  • The New York Times reported in 2018 that tobacco companies paid social media influencers to secretly promote cigarettes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in more than 40 countries.

Even the most savvy young person on social media is likely to run across one of these tactics. But they’re fighting back.

CDC Foundation’s Role

The CDC Foundation works in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WHO (World Health Organization) and other partners to support the Global Tobacco Surveillance System (GTSS) which helps countries collect data and monitor use by both adults and youth, as well as guide prevention and control programs and inform policy. Young people around the world can also leverage this information to help them reduce tobacco use among their peers.

GTSS data for over 190 countries around the world is available for free on the CDC Foundation’s GTSS Academy website through the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The Academy site went live in 2019 and recently added two e-courses specifically aimed at helping countries gather data on tobacco use among youth.

The CDC Foundation, in collaboration with CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, also recently held a virtual discussion panel called The Role of Surveillance and Leveraging Data to Protect Youth from Tobacco. Representing the various sectors in tobacco control, such as research, policy development, policy implementation and youth advocacy, the participants discussed how public health agencies, government entities, academic institutions and other interested parties need to sustain this kind of data-driven approach to identify evolving trends. Then communities can develop and evaluate targeted interventions that can make a real difference in reducing tobacco use among youngsters. The webinar drew an audience of over 275 people representing 68 countries.

Additional information, including the webinar recording and resources, can be found on the GTSS Academy World No Tobacco Day page.

Black woman smiling, wearing a white shirt
Sallay Manah is a program officer in Global Tobacco Control.
A white woman with long brown hair smiling in front of a brick wall
Adriana Dragicevic is an evaluation and program officer in Global Tobacco Control.