Large numbers of children as young as seven years old can recognise product logos and names – even for products they don’€™t use such as cigarettes, snuff and beer.

This, says Dr Krisela Steyn of the Medical Research Council, is all the more reason why the new tobacco control legislation should impose strict controls on the advertising of tobacco products and their logos.

Steyn, who recently delivered a paper at the 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health in Chicago, said there was ample evidence that tobacco manufacturers were targeting children through their advertising.

In 1993, the tobacco industry spent more than $6 million advertising and marketing its products worldwide. This amount was nearly five thousand times more than the entire budget of the World Health Organisation for tobacco or health activities in the same year.

Steyn says one of the important intentions of the new tobacco legislation is to protect children and adolescents from becoming addicted to nicotine. A study conducted by Professor Thea de Wet of the Rand Afrikaans University showed that just three years after the first democratic elections, 97 percent of 7-year old children surveyed recognised the new South African flag.

“This shows how easily and well young children can internalise logos,” said Steyn. She added that what was alarming was that 78 percent of the same children recognised the Rothmans logo ‘€“ probably as a result of indirect advertising through sport sponsorship because the cigarette company sponsored the National Soccer League Rothmans Cup.

Only Coca-Cola (83 percent) and Castle Lager (81 percent) enjoyed a higher recognition rating than the cigarette brand.

This data underlines the need for the full implementation of the WHO recommendations to ensure comprehensive tobacco control in South Africa, says Steyn.

This includes a ban on “all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to protect South Africans, including the children, from being encouraged to use a product that will them 20 years earlier than necessary if it is used as the manufacturers suggest.”The new tobacco regulations, which include a ban on tobacco sponsorship as from April 2001 and tight restrictions on advertising, are due to come into effect on October 1.