Children in 21 countries are being exposed to promotions by large tobacco companies, with cigarettes and advertising appearing close to schools, according to a new report.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids found that in most of the 21 countries it investigated, half of children aged 13 to 15 had easy access to cigarettes close to their schools, from street or mobile sellers, vending machines or kiosks.
The tactics used to promote cigarettes included advertising at children's eye-level, products sold near sweets or soda and advertising or product displays outside stores. In several countries, single cigarettes rather than packs were also available.
In one photo sent to CNBC by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, children in uniform outside a school near Jakarta, Indonesia are seen next to a banner advertising Lucky Strike cigarettes. The school entrance can also clearly be seen in the image.
A spokesperson for Lucky Strike owner British American Tobacco said in an emailed statement in response: "We are a company that takes its responsibilities very seriously. We are looking in to the photo that you shared with us, and will take action if necessary."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has published 27 reports from country investigations that were originally produced between 2014 and 2016, working with Johns Hopkins University, public health groups and non-governmental organizations.
Most of the countries are in the developing world, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Kenya, but Switzerland is also included, where 242 retailers selling tobacco were found within 200 meters of schools.
Unlike many developed countries, Switzerland has not completely banned cigarette advertising or displays. Radio and TV ads are not allowed, but in some regions billboard advertising is permitted.
"This study clearly demonstrates that the tobacco industry places their products and ads in areas that are visible and accessible to youth," report authors from Johns Hopkins University wrote in the Swiss study, calling for a ban of product displays, advertising and point-of-sale promotion.
Marlboro cigarettes, owned by Philip Morris International (PMI), were seen for sale close to schools in 20 of the 21 countries surveyed. In 13 of those, the cigarettes were for sale with 250 meters of a school at more than 2,400 retailers.
Pall Mall, Kent, Dunhill and Lucky Strike cigarettes, owned by British American Tobacco (BAT), were seen for sale near schools in 19 countries.
A PMI spokesperson said in an emailed statement: "Preventing children from smoking is of the highest priority and we take every possible action to ensure that children are not exposed to the marketing or sale of tobacco products," and added that it has policies in place to make sure that its marketing is directed only toward adult smokers. PMI said that it trains retailers to make sure they are aware of underage regulations and their role in preventing the sale of tobacco products to minors.
BAT cigarette brands are smoked by about one in eight of the world's one billion adult smokers, according to the company's website. It is developing "potentially less risky" products, such as Glo cigarettes, which are heated up by an iPod-sized device to a lower temperature than with regular cigarettes, reducing the tar and toxins in the smoke.
A spokesperson said in an emailed statement: "Our products are for adult smokers only and that under-age smokers are not, and will never be, our target audience, anywhere in the world," adding that it provides posters to retailers with a message that it does not sell to people who are under age.
BAT added that it has strict rules to ensure outdoor advertising is not seen within 100m of a school and that its marketing principles ensure that products are marketed responsibly in the 200 markets where it operates.
A spokesperson from Imperial said in a statement emailed to CNBC: "We sell our brands in markets where there's a legitimate and existing demand for tobacco products and take the same responsible approach in places like Africa and Asia as we do in any other territory.
"For us, responsible marketing is about ensuring that our product and brand communications are not aimed at, or made appealing to, people under the age of 18 or non-smokers and that we operate in accordance with local laws." The spokesperson added that Imperial also has its own international marketing standard.
A JTI spokesperson said it complies with all laws regarding advertising of tobacco products and that it does not market products to minors. "This is best achieved by prevention schemes in shops, for example a minimum purchase or sell-to age, proof of age schemes, negative licensing and fines for retailers and proxy purchasing," the spokesperson added.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids published 27 reports from country investigations that were produced in 2016. It worked with organizations including Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School, public health groups and non-governmental organizations and countries included Argentina, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Moldova, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Romania, South Africa, Switzerland, Uganda and Ukraine.