World No Tobacco Day: FDI uses digital media to promote oral health and combat Big Tobacco online

31 May 2020 Tobacco

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Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death in the world today, killing more than eight million people each year1. Established by the World Health Organization, World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) is celebrated every year on 31 May as an opportunity to raise awareness on the deadly effects of tobacco use and harmful second-hand smoke exposure. 

WNTD 2020 highlights the systematic manipulation tactics of the tobacco industry and related industries to recruit new tobacco users. It also  empowers young people to engage in the fight against Big Tobacco: policies and initiatives such as mass media campaigns, pictorial health warnings, bans on tobacco advertising and/or taxes are proven to be effective in decreasing the consumption of tobacco, heated tobacco products (HTP) and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). FDI strives to counter the harmful effects of Big Tobacco advertising with its own digital media strategies to promote oral health and prevent oral diseases.

Big Tobacco takes advantage of digital media to recruit a new generation of tobacco users

As social media and other digital technologies have become a central element of everyday life, they also represent a new angle for targeted advertisements. As much as it can be used for beneficial mobilizing and informing, social media can also mislead and reinforce adverse social change.

A study found that many leading tobacco brands have an extensive presence on social media. E-cigarettes, hookah, and cigar brands have pages on at least two social media platforms, and one-third of smokeless tobacco brands have pages on at least one platform. Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are the most popular platforms2

How does Big Tobacco use social media to lure young people as potential consumers?

The promotion of tobacco, HTPs and ENDS often builds on lifestyle features of young people to influence their perception, opinion, and attitude towards these products. Even though social media platforms have strict rules to prevent tobacco advertisements, companies find loopholes by promoting tobacco or e-cigarettes using hashtags principally related to music festivals, for example. Big Tobacco uses social media to reach millions of people (without well-enforced age restrictions), using easily associated lifestyle imagery, Instagram stories, and hiring influencers without disclosing their sponsorship. Big Tobacco also understands that most prevention and cessation campaigns often have less of an impact on younger audiences: while many young people understand the harmful effects of smoking, some believe that they won’t become addicted, as they consider themselves as “only” social smokers and are less worried about long-term risks. 

FDI fights back with oral health resources and online tools 

FDI seeks to make oral health a global health priority and has developed its own set of online tools and resources to positively influence children and young people. As practicing good oral health should start at a young age, FDI crafts tailored messages for children to counter the negative effects of tobacco and nicotine advertising. FDI’s Mouth Heroes for Schools targets children aged 5–9 years and teaches them to take good care of their teeth and mouth. The Teacher Guide includes easy-to-use resources in the classroom and/or at home such as videos, worksheets, and presentations. 

World Oral Health Day, FDI’s global oral health campaign, also spreads messages about good oral hygiene practices to adults and children alike and demonstrates the importance of optimal oral health in maintaining general health and well-being. The campaign encourages everyone to start looking after their oral health by avoiding tobacco and harmful alcohol consumption, visiting the dentist regularly, and maintaining a healthy diet. 

World Oral Health Day provides an important digital platform to unite as many people as possible and reduce the oral disease burden through collective global action. FDI’s digital content helps to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health. This year, more than 24,000 people pledged to do something beneficial for their oral health, which included adopting a healthy, tobacco-free lifestyle. This impressive number proves that people, including young people, can absolutely be inspired to contribute to a healthier, tobacco-free world.

 

1. World Health Organization. Tobacco. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco. [Accessed 13 May 2020].

2. O’Brien EK , Hoffman L, Navarro MA, Ganz O. Social media use by leading US e-cigarette, cigarette, smokeless tobacco, cigar and hookah brands. Tob Control. 2020;0(1).

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