Youth pre-conference delegates unite to build a tobacco free generation

Nearly one hundred young people gathered today – 5 March – for the Youth Pre-Conference of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health designed to equip and inspire the next generation of tobacco control leaders.

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Mathume Phaahla participated in the day-long conference and voiced his support for those beginning their careers in public health and tobacco control, saying: “Young people are the future custodians of our country. Our commitment as a country, as we host this conference is to have even less youth initiated into tobacco use. We aim to reach the ultimate goal of zero initiation for young people. South Africa has an obligation to ensure we have strong, evidence-based tobacco control interventions.”

WCTOH 2018 President, Dr Flavia Senkubuge welcomed the delegates from nine countries, alongside President of the Youth Committee, Dr Inge Kleinhans.

The first discussions focused on using film and digital media to build compelling stories to advocate for tobacco control. Chair of the Scientific Committee for WCTOH 2018, Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf led the afternoon scientific panel. Professor Ayo-Yusuf, Deputy Vice Chancellor Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, offered delegates insight into scientific research. He said that although young people in Africa are a target for the tobacco industry, the region was still in a good place to introduce preventive strategies.

Youth ambassadors for health in South Africa led discussions on empowerment and skills-building for tobacco control. Delegates were encouraged to get familiar with the WHO FCTC as the foundation for building a tobacco free generation. A focus was on preventing young people from starting to smoke rather than focusing on cessation.

Siphokazi Zonke, youth ambassador for South Africa’s Western Cape said: “We as the young generation have the opportunity to break the cycle and to encourage new generations to come to be tobacco free. Civil society would achieve much more if they worked together. Together is better. And it’s faster. You will reach the young people before they are introduced to tobacco use.”

President of the Youth Committee, Inge Kleinhans drew the conference to a close, reading the conference declaration: “We commit to the fight against tobacco and call for the implementation of Tobacco Free generation in our time. For this, we propose a birth year of 2010 beyond which children will no longer be able to purchase cigarettes. We commit to support the global tobacco free generation movement, as well as to the creation of Tobacco Free Africa, a youth driven platform with a mandate to facilitate the Tobacco Free Generation movement throughout Africa. “

The full declaration will be formally presented during the opening plenary session on 7 March.