In a timely move for back-to-school season, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called on governments around the world and school authorities to ban smoking and vaping in schools, to protect young people and their respiratory health.
The WHO, via two crucial publications, “Freedom from Tobacco and Nicotine: A Guide for Schools” and “Nicotine- and Tobacco-Free School Toolkit,” said its aim is to safeguard children’s health amid relentless targeting by the tobacco industry, which has led to a surge in e-cigarette use and 9 out of 10 smokers starting before turning 18.
The tobacco industry aggressively markets tobacco and nicotine products to young people, resulting in an alarming increase in e-cigarette use and the initiation of smoking among adolescents. Furthermore, products have become more affordable for young people due to the sale of single-use cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which often lack health warnings.
Last month, US regulators issued warnings to companies, urging them to cease selling illegal e-cigarettes designed to appeal to youth, often resembling school supplies, cartoon characters, or even teddy bears.
The director of health promotion at the World Health Organisation, Dr. Ruediger Krech emphasised the importance of protecting young people from deadly second-hand smoke, toxic e-cigarette emissions, and advertisements promoting these harmful products. He stated, “Whether sitting in class, playing games outside, or waiting at the school bus stop, we must protect young people”.
The newly released guide and toolkit offer step-by-step instructions for schools to establish nicotine- and tobacco-free environments, adopting a holistic “whole of school” approach involving teachers, staff, students, parents, and others. The materials cover topics such as supporting students to quit, conducting educational campaigns, implementing policies, and enforcing them.
The guide emphasises four strategies to foster nicotine- and tobacco-free environments for young people: Banning nicotine and tobacco products on school campuses, prohibiting the sale of nicotine and tobacco products near schools, banning direct and indirect advertisements and promotions of nicotine and tobacco products near schools, rejecting sponsorship or engagement with tobacco and nicotine industries.
Several countries worldwide have been recognised for successfully implementing policies supporting tobacco and nicotine-free campuses, including India, Indonesia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Qatar, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.
The WHO’s new guide aims to create nicotine- and tobacco-free schools to promote the health and safety of children. Such policies help prevent young people from starting to smoke, contribute to a healthier and more productive student body, shield youth from toxic substances in second-hand smoke, reduce cigarette litter and cut cleaning costs.
To safeguard public health, the WHO encourages all countries to make indoor public places completely smoke-free, aligning with Article 8 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.