World News in Brief: End e-cigarette boom urges WHO, measles surge in Europe, Central Asia; crisis for kids in Lebanon


E-cigarettes, which pose serious health risks, are being “aggressively marketed” to young people and in large parts of the world there are no rules in place to protect children from their harmful effects, UN health agency WHO warned on Thursday.

WHO said that 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be bought and 74 countries have not implemented any e-cigarette regulations.

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WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on countries to ramp up prevention measures, saying that “kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and may get hooked to nicotine”.

Teen users spiking

Children aged 13 to 15 worldwide are using e-cigarettes at rates higher than adults, WHO research has found, and in the United Kingdom the number of young users has tripled in the past three years.

The UN health agency said that the products generate carcinogenic substances, increase the risk of heart and lung disorders and can affect brain development.

WHO also warned that the tobacco industry “funds and promotes false evidence” to argue that e-cigarettes reduce harm, while at the same time “heavily promoting these products to children and non-smokers and continuing to sell billions of cigarettes”.

Decline in vaccine coverage prompts measles surge in Europe, Central Asia: UNICEF

Measles, a vaccine-preventable disease which weakens children’s immune systems and can be fatal, is up by a staggering 3,200 per cent this year compared to last in Europe and Central Asia, UN Children’s Fund UNICEF said on Thursday.

Some 30,600 cases have been confirmed in the region so far in 2023 and UNICEF warned that numbers are expected to rise further due to gaps in immunity as vaccination rates have dropped.

“There is no clearer sign of a breakdown in immunisation coverage than an increase in cases of measles”, UNICEF’s director for the region Regina De Dominicis said, calling for urgent public health measures to protect children from the dangerous disease.

The highest rates of measles cases in Europe and Central Asia have been recorded in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Romania. An estimated 931,000 children in the region missed out entirely or partially on routine immunisation from 2019 to 2021.

UNICEF highlighted that the rate of immunisation with the first dose of the measles vaccine dropped from 96 per cent in 2019 to 93 per cent in 2022. 

The UN agency attributes the drop in coverage to shrinking demand for vaccines “in part fuelled by misinformation and mistrust” during the COVID-19 pandemic, disruption to health services and weak primary healthcare systems among other factors.

Lebanese children forced to seek work, as crises rage on

The impact of Lebanon’s unrelenting, overlapping crises continues to worsen, increasingly robbing children of their education and forcing many into child labour, UNICEF warned on Thursday.

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The children’s agency said in a new survey based on data from last month that parents are simply struggling to stay afloat, having to make do with ever-diminishing resources.

The analysis reveals further deterioration in almost every aspect of children’s lives, as the four-year-long crisis stemming from economic crisis, political turmoil and the Beirut port explosion, shows no sign of abating.

The agency said the emotional burden is particularly heavy in conflict-affected southern Lebanon and among Palestinian children.

Eroding childhood

“This terrible crisis is eroding the childhood of hundreds of thousands of children, through multiple crises not of their making,” said Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative in Lebanon. “Its severity is crushing children’s dreams, and taking away their learning, their happiness and their future.”

More than a quarter of households said they had school-aged children who were not attending classes, up from 18 per cent in April this year.

Making matters worse, several dozen schools in southern Lebanon have been closed since October due to an intensification of hostilities across the Israeli border, affecting more than 6,000 students.

Skyrocketing prices and widespread poverty are continuing to force families to take desperate measures just to afford one meal per day and basic shelter.


Work, not school

The number of families sending children out to work to supplement household income, rose to a shocking 16 per cent, from 11 per cent in April.

More than eight in 10 households (84 per cent) had to borrow money or buy on credit to purchase essential grocery items; that’s a 16 per cent increase over six months, the survey indicates.

And more than eight out of 10 families reduced spending on health treatment, up from 75 per cent.

The deprivations and uncertainty are taking a heavy toll on children’s mental health too, with almost 4 in 10 households saying their children are anxious, and 24 per cent saying they are depressed on a daily basis.

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