Tobacco industry manipulation of youth and children in the South Asia Region Webinar I: SARC-CCT Webinar Series to Commemorate World No Tobacco Day 2020

The very first webinar of the South Asian Regional Consortium Centre (SARC-CCT) Webinar Series commemorating the World No Tobacco Day 2020 was successfully held on 31st May– on the World No Tobacco day 2020. This webinar was organised by the Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) Sri Lanka together with the South Asian Regional Consortium Centre for Combating Tobacco (SARC-CCT) network with the assistance of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease (The Union). Webinar was focused on how the tobacco industry manipulates youth and children in the South Asia region via a diverse range of tactics. Country case presentations exposing the tactics under a selected topic were made by the SARC-CCT fellows or the representative from each South Asian country.

Two case studies from Bangladesh and India highlighted how competitions are used to engage youth and children. Mr. Mahir Dyan Amin, SARC-CCT Fellow from Bangladesh presented about the “Battle of Minds” by the British American Tobacco (BAT) Bangladesh, targeting the university students. Dr. Aastha Bagga SARC-CCT Fellow from Indiapresented two examples for competitions targeting school children. The first example, the“Conrad Challenge”is an international competition of which the Foundation for a Smoke-Free Worldfunded by the Philip Morris International(PMI) is a partner. The second example was the “Classmate” the competition organised by the stationary brand of the ITC Limited, promoting the ITC’s image among the students, parents and the public.

Afghanistan and Bhutan case studies were different from the rest, highlighting two important perspectives relevant to the South Asian Region. Dr. Said Habib Arwal, SARC-CCT Fellow from Afghanistan presentedhow the domestic tobacco industries manipulate children. Bhutan, the first country ever in the world with a comprehensive ban on tobacco cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of tobacco products, is the only country in the region with such a context. Mr. Chhimi Dorji, the SARC-CCT Committee member, explained how the illicit tobacco trade is targeting youth in Bhutan and try to manipulate them.

Pakistan and Maldives case studies highlighted two other important issues in the region. The case study on smokeless tobacco industry from Pakistan detailed how this relatively “old” industry still manages to manipulate youth and influence their tobacco use. Maldives case study, presented by Ms. Afa Adnan, SARC-CCT Fellow, highlighted how the Shisha industry invaded Maldives in recent years and manipulated youth and found an ally in the tourism industry.

Nepal and Sri Lanka case studies were on two major tactics used by the tobacco industry.Nepal case study highlighted corporate social investments, a tactic the industry had been using during the past century.Mr. Bhisha Kafle the SARC-CCT fellow Nepal, presented examples from activities of Surya Nepal Pvt. Ltd, jointly owned by ITC Limited and British American Tobacco PLC. The diverse range of activities under the themes women, sports, health and nature, targeted youth as well as children with a special focus onwomen. TheSri Lankan case study was on a newer tactic – manipulations via social mediaplatforms. Ms. Hiruni Wijesuriya from the CCT explained how the youth is targeted by the industry with the examples given from the commonly used social media platforms Face book, Instagram, WhatsApp and You tube.

At the end of the presentations, a panel discussion commenced,moderated by Dr. Mahesh Rajasuriya, Director CCT. Panelists wereDr. Rana J. Singh, the Deputy Regional Director of The Union Indiaand Mr. Phil Chamberlain Tobacco Control Research Group University of Bath, United Kingdom and Dr. Manuja Perera, Editor, Centre for Combating Tobacco (CCT) Sri Lanka.

Dr. Rana J. Singh elaborated how the e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products are aggressively introduced and marketed in low and middle-income countries, including the South Asian Region. Highlighting The Union’s position on e-cigarettes Dr. Rana further stated that banning e-cigarettes is the best mechanism to prevent its harm. Mr. Phil Chamberlain explained the tactic of how the social media plat forms are constantly reminding the same facts over and over again targeting particularly the young smokers.Dr. Manuja Perera highlighted the similarities observed in Tobacco Industry Interference in the region and stressed the importance of working together and networking like SARC-CCT in combating common tobacco industry enemies.

A question and answer session followedthe panel discussion enabling the participants to clarify issues raised during the webinar. Participants who attended the webinar from all over the world actively engaged in the discussions, expressing their passion and enthusiasm towards exposing the industry manipulations and protecting youth and children from their tactics.


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