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Tobacco users: WHO launches campaign to help them kick the habit

Close up shot of cigarette butts in glass ashtray Image credit: lightfieldstudios / 123rf tobacco users concept.
Image credit: lightfieldstudios / 123rf

Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched “Commit to Quit” – a campaign aimed to help tens of millions of tobacco users to quit.

The campaign “will support at least 100 million people as they try to give up tobacco through communities of quitters”, the WHO says. The agency asserted that the campaign has heightened importance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When evidence was released this year that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with COVID-19 compared to non-smokers, it triggered millions of smokers to want to quit tobacco,” the WHO explains. “Quitting can be challenging, especially with the added social and economic stress that have come as a result of the pandemic, but there are a lot of reasons to quit.” To this end, it outlined a list of 104 reasons to quit. The reasons address tobacco use’s negative effects on health, society, and the environment. 

“Millions of people worldwide want to quit tobacco – we must seize this opportunity and invest in services to help them be successful, while we urge everyone to divest from the tobacco industry and their interests,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at the WHO. Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus observed “smoking kills eight million people a year, but if users need more motivation to kick the habit, the pandemic provides the right incentive.” 

India is no stranger to the effects of tobacco use. In fact, it is one of the “Commit to Quit” campaign’s target countries. 

According to the Tobacco Atlas, “every year, more than 932,600 of [India’s] people are killed by tobacco-caused disease. Still, more than 625,000 children (ten to fourteen years old) and 89,486,000 adults (fifteen+ years old) continue to use tobacco each day.” Tobacco use fuels the country’s crisis of noncommunicable diseases, which result in 5.2 million lives lost a year. And, as the WHO points out, a high rate of tobacco use stands to exacerbate India’s ongoing COVID-19 crisis as well as other diseases prevalent in India such as tuberculosis. 

Recent years witnessed the Union Government tackle tobacco use in the country with a range of measures – often with fierce opposition from the tobacco industry. The measures include a hike in the tax on tobacco products, a ban on e-cigarettes, and the imposition of graphic health warnings on the packaging of tobacco products accompanied by a toll-free quitline. Just this week, the Union Government wrote to the governments of state and union territories to ensure that the rules regarding the health warnings are enforced. 

The progress India has made is significant, but it is incomplete. In the 2016-17 period, 8.1 million fewer Indians used tobacco in the 2016-17 period, compared to 2010. The “Commit to Quit” could serve to further these efforts and bring tobacco use rates even further down. 

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